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Truth about gang initiations and innocent bystanders

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Occasionally, an email, tweet, Facebook, or Esomething is passed around feverishly regarding "gang initiation week" that causes innocent people to be killed or harmed. This leads to "I heard" and "someone said." These "initiations" have been exposed as urban legends.

For example, there was a Nashville, Tennessee story circulating that, if approaching a car while driving and that car flashed its headlights at you, by flashing your car's lights in return you would be shot as the drivers are gang members joining the group. There was a story circulating Walmart shoppers (female, elderly, or a baby) were being targeted in the parking lots and killed as a means to join gangs. Innocent people being randomly selected as targets. These stories create fear.

How do we discern the truth from the legend? 1. Look at the source. The urban legends usually start with an anonymous person being credited, such as "a friend of mine who is a police officer" or "my family member." 2. Consider the coverage. If gang - initiated, numerous, random murders were truly happening in our community, wouldn't it be covered by all local news? 3. Lack of details: there is usually no date, time, exact location, or names in these stories.

Communities touched by the hysteria of the urban legends include Nashville, Tennessee. In 2008, the Metropolitan Nashville Police Department was forced to make this public announcement: "A hoax email is presently circulating through Nashville warning people to be aware of increased gang activity and random shootings. The Metropolitan Police Department’s Gang Unit has determined that the email has no validity" (source).

The Nashville District Attorney also released a statement: "A false e-mail has been circulating through the Nashville community … telling people to be aware of a reported potential increase in gang activity. …(T)his is erroneous information, and there is no merit to the claims made in the e-mail. The Metro Nashville Police Department's gang division has also debunked the claims made in this false e-mail." (source)

"Gang initiation week" does not exist. Members who wish to join gangs are initiated in other ways; popular initiations are being "jumped in" (beaten for a timed period by a group of members), retaliation against a rival gang, or through ceremony without violence (i.e. tattooing). Girl gangs may be forced to have sex with male gang members.

Innocent bystanders are often hit with a stray bullet, murdered in a robbery, or mistaken for rival gang members and harmed. In the majority of murders committed by gangs, another gang member is the victim. But the urban legends circulating about "gang initiation week" and certain types of initiations need to be closely scrutinized before we pass on the "information." We can create more harm with this fiction.

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