What Were They Thinking?

January 11, 2011
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You are alone in a country of a foreign language, in the depths of the city. Young, small and afraid, you walk down the street feeling tense and uneasy. An absent and broken family is all you have. So, how can one argue that when an opportunity for a family of people in the same positions is given, it is wrong to take it? People of all ages have resorted to joining gangs in search of something that everyone deserves whether it is respect, friends, a place to fit in, or security. These people feel that they are deprived of basic needs and a gang is the only place that supplies it. Gangs have been around for centuries and while some last and becomes legends, others fade into memories (“Gang Wikipedia”). However, the amount of gang members has always been immense. Gangs are in every country of the world such as Japan, China Russia, and America (“Gang History Encyclopaedia Britannica”). There is an estimated 24,500 gangs in the United States alone (“Gang Facts and Statistics”). As of 2009, it is estimated that there are one million gang members and of the million, forty percent are under eighteen (“Gang Facts and Statistics”). Most of the gang violence comes from when a new member joins at about the ages of sixteen to eighteen. However, the kids hang out in the streets long before they become legitimate members (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). Each gang has its own beliefs, rituals, rights of passage, and ways of identification. However all gangs participate in the same basic actions. These include gang fights, defending their turf, rape, drug abuse, selling, smuggling, “wanton shooting” which is gang slang for the shooting of innocent people and is usually used for initiation to test strength or willingness, drive-by shooting, robbery, assault, blackmail, immigrant smuggling, paid murder and, kidnapping (“Shooting Innocent People”). Obviously gang members will do just about anything that they can think of, anything that will earn them status in their gang. One of the ways to earn status in any gang, a roller coaster of violence and disappointment, is to be called crazy making their way up to the top, an “original gangster”. Being considered crazy in gang terms means being on the line of insanity, they have no morals and will easily do the unthinkable (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). A group of “MS-13” members aimed for this status by chopping of all the limbs of another gang’s member with machete (“Books of The Times; Illuminating Gang Life in Los Angeles: Its Raw”). Living “the crazy life” is also a goal of all gang members. It is called something different for each gang for example the Hispanic gangs call it “La Vida Loca”. It is symbolized by a triangle of three dots, each one symbolizing a hospital, jail, or dead, which, if you end up in one of those places you will be living the crazy life or the gang life (“You don’t want to know what we do after dark”). In today’s culture, usually, gangs do not only apply to a certain race, culture, or gender; they are in every community and everyone is affected (“Young People Are Drawn to Gangs for Multiple Reasons”). Being a gang member, dying early is expected along with numerous trips to the hospital and to jail (“Books of The Times; Illuminating Gang Life in Los Angeles: Its Raw”). When one hears of all the friends that gang members lose because of what they participate in and of all the jail time and murder that they are involved in, one cannot help but ask, why? The direct factors that cause people to join gangs are 1) family influences 2) cultural differences and 3) protection while the indirect factors are 1) low income 2) family issues and 3) drug and alcohol abuse which lead to a great deal of time on the streets and eventually a gang initiation ceremony.

Family members, a major influential role in anyone’s life, can be a direct motive for involving oneself in a gang. As a child grows up, they are completely dependant on their parents; therefore usually what the parents say goes. In most cases, the parent is a teen parent and a gang member and as the child grows up all he observes is a gang life, not even getting a chance to taste a normal, non-violent existence. In other situations, older sibling or cousins that the child spends a great deal of time with can imply that the gang life is better than it actually is by suggesting that they have more power and safety on the streets, when in reality they are doomed for death. They may also feel that because their family members or their role models are in a gang, it is the place they belong. Yet how can one argue that it is easy and obvious to go against all that your family has ever taught you? There is no question whether it is right. A gang is the only place they will feel that they belong. Sometimes the kid does not even want to be involved but their siblings pressure or taunt them. Perhaps they are exceeding in school or they see the real suicidal destruction of a gang but when ones own family forces it how can one say no? Unfortunately, some gangs pass the membership down through generations (“Young People Are Drawn to Gangs for Multiple Reasons”). This creates an endless cycle of gang members through many family trees, only increasing in quantity over time. This will never stop unless something is done to aid the new ignorant generation. It is poignant and heartbreaking to know that some young children, the future of the world, are wasting their superior abilities to follow in the sinister, burdensome footsteps of their family. A former gang member, Frank Garcia tells children at the Mothers Against Gangs organization that he is jealous of them because they still have opportunities to do something more with their life outside of a gang life (“Mothers Against Gangs”).

Some people have a different culture than the one surrounding them, which can create direct incentive to joining a gang. As irrational as this decision process would sound, I feel that a vast amount of people in this same situation would do exactly as they do. Every person knows what it feels like to not belong but imagine feeling that no matter where you go or what you do you can never belong. They are always the minority and are always going to have the stereotype of that race tattooed to them. When immigrants come to America they not only are presented with different people and a different language, but also a new culture causing them to become the minority (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). As these immigrants, and even the generations following them, become involved and absorbed into the surrounding culture of America, and try to hold on to their family’s and ancestors’ culture they become stuck. Halfway between two cultures and not belonging to either, they turn into foreigners to both contiguous societies, making them feel excluded with no place to belong. It is understandable that these people join gangs just because they are desperate to relate to someone and to know they have a feeling of belonging (“Young People Are Drawn to Gangs for Multiple Reasons”). Today’s society also contributes to the discrimination and alienation of ethnic minorities. Even the stereotype alone can keep minority groups in poverty by assuming them not to be as capable as others. Parents or a parent may be working excessively hard because of discrimination which forces then to have to leave their children at home unsupervised, fending for themselves. This results in children dropping out of school or becoming bored and eventually ending up on the streets (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). It can also cause them to act out violently against society and authority just because of the stress and unfair treatment that they receive from a majority of the society that is around them (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). Cultural differences like language for example can create a major set back in a child’s learning process (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). For the average high school student it takes at least four to five years to know enough to be fluent in Spanish, but even then they are not up to the standards of a native born Spanish speaker. Yet, these children are expected to learn an entirely new language as well as a year’s worth of school just to go onto the next grade level. In addition to that, they also have to do most of their learning on their own because there is no extra help due to poverty and discrimination. These issues lead to children dropping out of school and depending on a gang to fill their needs. (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”).

Many children join a gang because they need protection form other gangs. In this situation, the child might be a good student or just an innocent bystander who becomes the unlucky target to a gang. The gang will beat them up, harass, blackmail, and do almost anything to make their life miserable. This unfortunate kid can only take so much until the thought of strength in numbers come into their mind. The kid would then join a rival gang so that he now has protection and an alliance of friends who “have his back”. Eventually the gang life becomes the air they breathe as they get sucked in farther; it becomes arduous to escape the wrath and they are stuck in the violent rollercoaster, dangling their very existence over their heads.
Numerous people join gangs because they have a low income in their family and look to a gang to provide themselves with money. It is sensible for families to only live in places that they can afford. Regrettably, the low class and poverty stricken areas are the places where people are the most despondent and on the edge between desperation and what is appropriate in society. Because these places generally hold the most crimes, parents, or sometimes an even harder child hood of a single parent, have to work various jobs in order to have enough money to pay for all the necessities of life. This however leaves children unsupervised at an early age (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). They also have nothing to participate in because the schools in poorer areas are usually poverty stricken as well. They generally are over crowded and the little money that they do have goes to things like textbooks and for the children leading to a lack of healthy and safe extra curricular activities that would consume the extra time that children have. Soon they drop out of school, begin participating in criminal dealings, start to sell drugs or alcohol, and some even become paid assassins, anything for money. This same situation happens throughout the entire community as well. The neighborhood does not use the money they have to build playgrounds or parks, and if they did it would probably turn into a place to sell drugs, they spend their money on repairing the streets and buildings that are run down or torn apart. Having nothing to do, it is no surprise that children hang out on the streets becoming influenced by the people around them. Dire, malevolence, and corrupt, the criminals gain an increasing amount of control over the children that need to spend time on the streets groveling for money. Poverty inflicting the school, as I explained earlier, can also affect the learning quality of the children. Over crowding causes bigger classes meaning less individual attention form the teacher. It also means that a student may not have any extra help from a tutor or the teacher. I do not know where I would be if I had to go through my algebra class with out the extra help I got outside of school. They are as competent as any other student but poverty has affected their life hindering them incapable of experiencing an accommodating learning environment. Can you imagine having to will your own self through school, having to do it all on your own? The studying, the comprehending, even getting up and going, while your parents are out working, leaving you unsupervised. Most children cannot take the stress and shame of failure or do not have the influences needed to learn good study habits and find inspiration to achieve. Dropping out, they begin a sadistic life of street brutality and bloodshed.

Family issues, generating a traumatic childhood, can push children to participate in gang activity. I can honestly say there is not a single person that has not had family issues. When there are problems with the people whom you are closest to, who have know you your whole life, it has immense impact on one’s life. A troubled family or lack of family creates a very stressful childhood even without all the other regular struggles of maturing into an adult. The family is the basis for all that a child knows; it influences how one sees the world and how one progresses through life. When parents are working, convoluted into drug or alcohol abuse, or treat their children badly, it produces a troublesome, stressful and intense household. Consequently, the children do not have a good role model or they are trying to stay away from home as much as possible. Without parental influence, children are not persuaded to engage themselves in school or extra curricular activities and they become bored and rebellious. Seeking action, they make their ways to the blood stained streets where their life will soon be ended. Almost all children with family issues join a gang because they are in search of a family. They feel that they have a place and that they matter to some one. As a gang member persists to participate in gang activities, a majority of them are shootings; they loose friends and “family members” which result in a serious and deep connection with the other members (“Young People Are Drawn to Gangs for Multiple Reasons”).

A high majority of drug and alcohol abusers find themselves falling into the dark hole of a gang’s unredeemable future. Unhealthy and irrational, becoming addicted or abusing drugs or alcohol is always the wrong path to choose. Some people become addicted or abusers just because they are following the poor example their parents set for them. Frank Garcia states that he acquired an interest in drug use after he started loitering on the streets in his neighborhood, infested with gangs (“Mothers Against Gangs”). When a person becomes addicted to vile, sordid drugs, they become obsessed and spend what little money they have on drugs replacing more important things like providing your family with food or the rent. Hence the drugs keep them in poverty-stricken areas, which is usually where the drugs are more heavily influential, keeping them addicted, renewing the cycle (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). This ongoing cycle seems eternal as it keeps gang members in the depths of a community and continues to acquire more people to become addicted to drugs. Drugs are also the main source of money for a gang member and some people join just to make a higher profit in drug dealing. Drugs have become widely spread through out the entire world and the underground system of drug trading is run by gangs. It is a scary thought, knowing that these deprived sick people are only minutes away. Gang members may intoxicate themselves and drive drunk or take a beating to the next level, rape and death. Alcohol makes a person do things that are out of their logical mind set, however as a gang member tried to reach “La Vida Loca”, as explained earlier, even his logical mind is crude and aggressive so when drunk, anything could happen.

Because of matters such as low income, family issues, and alcohol and drug abuse, people end up on the streets highly encouraged to join a gang and be committed to an early death and blood-filled life. For a majority of gang members, they entered the streets and it only got worse from there. These many factors can damage a person’s entire lifetime, even the generations following. As children grow into teenagers, they gradually become more dependant on their peers because they are in a stage of their life when they are trying to find out who they are and who they want to be. Alas, if the people surrounding them, peers and role models in a meager neighborhood, are participating in gang activity then the insecure teenager will at the least be tempted to explore this life style (“Urban Violence and Street Gangs”). When a person is surrounded by a certain concept, it takes a very self-assured, strong person to resist the peer pressure and the longing to fit in. However this seems extremely rare when one considers all the other factors that one of these children has to deal with. Some may argue that adults are different than teens in this way. Although this is true, adults are generally more self-assured than teens, all the gang members that are above eighteen influence the inexperienced teenagers; they become adults, and influence the following generation of new teens. The result of this inevitable cycle of influence, absence of necessities, and problems not even suited for adults, is an increasing amount of gang members through out the United States. America is not a land meant to tolerate or provide for people who think that they have to “survive with violence” or who think that the golden rule is “kill or be killed”. It seems that no matter what the reason the kid ends up on the street, once they do, it is certain that they will join a gang. Simple interacting with gang members will lead to joining either by influence, fear, or a place to fit in. After a child is raised by the streets in a life of violence, it becomes their life. It is all that they know how to do and the only option they see.

In conclusion, all these direct and indirect factors are weighing down the soon-to-be gang members and making their lives very troublesome and stressful. What I find to be the most frustrating about this topic is that it seems they have perfectly logical reasoning to join a gang. If I were in the situation that they were in, for instance not having anyone force me to go to school when I was younger, I would probably have dropped out and followed in their path. They are deprived of the things that every single person needs in their lifetime, therefore it makes since for them to be screwed up from having to live with out necessities. A former gang member named Luis Rodriguez explained that while he was in a gang, somewhere inside him, he had a longing to die. However, it was not the typical answer as to why. Luis stated that he only wanted to die in order to have a funeral so that everyone would love him; he felt that unless it was at his funeral, he would not receive love and sadly I know that I have felt love every day of my life. (“Author talks about his life in a gang”). All they need to is someone who cares. Luis Rodriguez also says that he has found five steps to free ones self from a gang’s grasp, they are: 1) get help 2) find a way to express yourself such as art, writing, or music 3) become involved in something bigger than yourself 4) find religion and 5) take control of your own life (“Author talks about his life in a gang”). I believe that as an alliance of people who care and want to help, we can solve the heart-wrenching problem of gangs in America. Another major part of the problem is that they do not have any opportunities to participate in extra activities such as sports, clubs, and groups where they can speak freely about their life to fill up their time, shielding them from the influences of gangs (“Mothers Against Gangs”). The Mothers Against Gangs organization has found that when children work with other children it is a more effective way to get in touch with the inner thoughts of possible future gang members. A man named Kody Scott, who had to teach himself while he was in jail for a majority of his life, has proven to be a very positive influence to children today by sharing what his life was like as a gang member and sharing the truth about that way of life (“Books of The Times; Illuminating Gang Life in Los Angeles: Its Raw”). I think that if the children that are most highly impacted were talked to about gangs and the affects that they have apposed to the other opportunities in society, and shown that someone does care about them, then that could turn their entire life right side up and could even lower the amount of gang members hence the overall crime rate. Gangs affect every single part of the world so there is no running from it. They are taking innocent lives and tearing up parts of the communities. This is a cause that will affect everyone therefore it must be dealt with now or else this problem will only grow. It can be fixed; benefiting all of the economy and society, all we have to do is care.





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