October 16, 2009
Photo courtesy of Photoexpress
The following article is prompted by the flurry of recent shootings and violence in Buffalo neighborhoods. Its intent is to educate and motivate the community beginning with family.
Gangs are nothing new, but the violence acted out by them, often on innocent bystanders, is more troubling than ever. It reaches far beyond the "rumble" of the 1950s. And parents should definitely be frightened for the safety of their children. In fact, we should all be frightened, not only for the children, but for ourselves and our properties. Gang violence is on the rise and the "territories" are migrating, even into rural communities. Yet our fears must not intimidate us into inactivity and put us in hiding, instead we must use them to connect and mobilize our communities to act against this violence.
Buffalo, New York is the "City of Good Neighbors" but it is not immune. While Rochester, New York has had more ingrained gang activity, gangs are on the move and continue to grow right here in our backyards. In some cities, it is estimated that thousands of teens belong to gangs. Many of us may not realize it, but Buffalo now has some of the most notorious nationally known gangs on its streets, the Crypts, the Bloods, the Latin Kings. They thrive on illegal activity including the drug trade and they are sucking the life out of our children. It is also important to note that not all gangs are created equal, some are entrepreneurial (such as the afore mentioned) and some youth gangs are simply drawn together for support. Entrepreneurial gangs trade in illegal drugs and weapons, yet children are being hurt and killed in both.
Some information on gangs to help parents deal with them in the community.
It is important for parents to remember that not all bad behaviors on the part of their teens mean that they are in a gang. But there are some things to be aware of that might help should you suspect they are.
So why do kids join gangs? There a number of traditional reasons for gang affiliation, as well as some new ones. Youth without strong family relationships join gangs because the gang offers them the support and closeness they don't get at home. They join gangs because it sounds "cool" and many of their friends are involved. They also join gangs because they are scared to death of the consequences for not joining, they are literally pressured into it. Perhaps the most dangerous gang affiliation is the "wannabe", where a youth is not actually in a gang but touts it and makes others believe they are involved. Why so dangerous? Because these youth don't really understand the seriousness of the gang culture and they can easily be mistaken for gang members when in fact, they are not involved.
The "gang culture" is complex. Gangs have territories that they have taken it upon themselves to "protect " or to run, as in a business. Rival gangs crossing boundaries, or bystanders not knowing the rituals of a particular gang, can become embroiled in violence. Sometimes rival gangs intentionally start "wars" for these territories and an outsider may not know it. This is not a child's game of capture-the-flag. It is serious and young people get killed.
Gangs have secret hand signals and graffiti markers for communicating among themselves. Graffiti can signal a "hit" order and mark the boundaries of a territory. We can act to erase these signs as they appear. Parents should take note, many "gangster rap" music videos include hand-signals, that may seem like harmless fun, but youth unwittingly picking them up may be signaling themselves into trouble. The same is true of gang colors. The Crypts' color is blue and the Bloods' is red. If you are a parent you should be aware of how your children dress using these colors. It could be a sign that your child is involved in a gang or just an innocent choice that could put them in the middle of unexpected danger.
Moses Robinson, School Resource Officer and gang specialist from Rochester, New York , tells a troubling story of a children's clothier who created a blue jeans jumpsuit for very young children complete with sewn-in blue hankie in the back pocket. The little boy wearing this outfit, purchased by his mother, had no way of knowing that he was telling the gang world of his affiliation with the Crypts! He was five years old.
Other color signals include a gang-colored hankie tucked in the front of a gang member's pants. This says "I'm carrying a piece (a gun.)" Think about how easily a child might pick up these styles or unknowingly dress in such a way only to find themselves confronted. And it is as easy for them to find themselves pressured or harassed while walking home from school if they must cross gang boundaries. If you are not concerned about this, see what happened recently in Chicago when an honor student was beaten to death on his way to wait for the bus. There was no adult presence.
Getting into a gang involves a series of rituals from being "jumped in" (when other gang members literally beat the youngster), to committing a crime from mugging, robbery, killing or submitting to rape. Getting out is never so easy as walking away, so if you know a youngster that is in a gang, don't just expect them to quit because they want to. Get them real help from a police agency. "Jumping out" is worse than jumping in. It may mean their death. But there is hope. Moses Robinson, also President of the WNY Chapter of the East Coast Gang Investigator's Association states, "Upstate and Western New York regional gangs are loose-knit and disorganized. This fact weighs in our favor to remove kids from their involvement in gangs...but community support must be strong."
As caregivers, we need to educate ourselves about the gang activities in our neighborhoods and our cities. We need to know where our children are and not be afraid to set strict rules for them, to insist they report their whereabouts, who they are with, and what they are doing. While there are cases of gang violence during daylight hours, many take place after dark. Children need to be home safe at these times, not wandering the streets. Don't be afraid to be a pest, a thorn in their sides, present in their lives. If they live to talk about it, they will thank you some day.
The saddest thing may be that many children do not have adults, especially strong male role-models, to guide them. This is where we simply must become " nosy neighbors" and take it upon ourselves to mentor these young people. It may be as simple as saying hello, asking a youth how they are doing today, and praising them when you see them doing something right. These little things can and do make a difference.
For more info contact: Moses Robinson, School Resource Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org
Websites for more info: www.teachersagainstgangs.com , www.safeyouth.org/scripts/topics/indexbyalpha.asp , www.nysgangprevention.com