Brian was born in Rockford, Illinois in the early eighties to a teen-aged mother and father. When Brian was four years old his father was sentenced to a twenty year prison sentence for an attempted murder. Leaving Brian’s mother to raise him and his sister on her own. Now the “man” of the house and guardian of his younger sibling, his duties included cleaning, babysitting and making sure that he and his sister got to school and back home safely. Where they would stay until their mother returned home from work. Then and only then would Brian and his sister be allowed to go outside and play.
Rockford is a city a couple of hours south of Chicago. Like Chicago in the late eighties and early nineties gangbanging in Rockford was an epidemic. A societal disease that Brian was first exposed to when he was about eight years old. He claims that it was his ignorance of the definition of the word “neutral” that led him to joining the Black Disciples. He proceeded to tell me the story of him walking home from school by himself one afternoon, when he was approached by a group of boys around his age. The oldest of the boys might have been eleven. The group of boys surrounded him and started questioning him about where he was going, his name, and if he was neutral? Scared and outnumbered Brian complied and answered all the questions. Having never heard the word “neutral” before Brian told the boys that he wasn’t neutral. So they asked him “what gang was he with?” Brian replied that he wasn’t with any gang. One of the older boys felt that Brian was playing with their intelligence and commanded the other kids to beat Brian up. The assault resulted in Brian’s nose being broken, two black eyes and a few bruised ribs.
To most people neutral means to be independent, unbiased, not favoring either side. In Brian’s mind it meant prey, victim, a broken nose, subject to being beaten up by kids after school or worse. It’s incidents like these that make kids that live in urban desert war zones pledge their allegiance and lives to causes that eventually lead to a life of crime, prison and death. These children make some very life altering adult decisions daily which to them seems like a logical decision because their survival depends on it. Gang banging thrives where there’s poverty,desperation,hunger,broken homes, low self-esteem and the need for an individual identity. The same elements that create gang members in New York are identical in Mexico and all over the world.
The only doctors that most of these kids come in contact with are the ones that deliver babies to adolescent mothers or tend to gunshot wounds. The only lawyers they are exposed to are the ones pleading for leniency at sentencing hearings. Not all gang members come from broken homes, some kids just fall victim to peer pressure or their environment. Most start out young at ages where they are very impressionable and can easily get caught up in the illusion that street life is the answer to all their problems. Some like Brian join out of fear, while other’s join for the promise of fast money, fame and the power that comes with being a member of the organization. They see the older gang members with the cars, jewelry and women living what’s looks to be the American dream. To a kid growing up in a poverty stricken neighborhood with nothing, where it seems like the world has turned it’s back on you. The allure of having money, an identity and the trappings of power is too much to pass up.
To kids that come from broken homes where love or family structure is nonexistent, gangs may provide the semblance of a family. it provides a sense of comraderie,mentorship and people that can relate to what you’ve been through and offer advice on what you may have to go through. The kids your age are your new siblings the leaders are the parents. In some places where gangbanging have existed for decades the members of the gang may literally be your siblings and your parents. It is important that we intervene in these crucial teenage years when our youth are looking for direction and mentors or they will be brainwashed into thinking that gangbanging is their way out.
Every gang claims to have a reason for being or some great cause that will better the lives of it’s members. Every gang has it’s identifying symbols, signs, literature, language, culture and colors in order to unify the minds and hearts it’s members. Indoctrination is extremely important because for new recruits their new lifestyle must become a path to salvation, a religion of sorts. It must become a way of thinking, acting and speaking. Each member must personify the creeds, culture and ethos. There must be rules and penalties varying in degrees of severity for misdemeanors to high crimes. Penalties may result in fines, beatings or death for an infraction of the gang’s rules. The gang’s structure is similar to any American corporation. There’s a head (ceo), he has a board of directors, under them are managers and finally you have workers and soldiers. Wage increases and promotions are incentives promised to each member for their loyalty and service.
Opportunities for climbing the ladder constantly arise as a result of arrests and deaths of members. Also with no honor among thieves one can create his or her own opportunity. Some of the tactics used by some members in order to climb the ranks would make Machiavelli proud. In the beginning members are driven by love of their gang and belief if the gang’s cause. They soon realize that not all members share the same sentiments. Greed, distrust and betrayal are par for the course. The enemies within the walls prove to be more dangerous than the enemies outside the gates. Paranoid, some gang members form factions of their own within the ranks. An army within an army awaiting the right time for mutiny. Being a gang leader means being forever vigilant because life expectancy within the ranks and especially at the top isn’t long.
Knowing all this the logical question is why not just leave the organization? In most instances desertion or putting your own interests over those of the organization is punishable by death. If you are respected enough to be able to drop your flag(leave the gang) you must always look over your shoulder. For one, to your rivals you’ll always be gang member no matter what. Forgiveness is not an option for them. In order to truly start over you’ll have to move away which may cost money that you don’t have. So for some rather than dealing with the alternatives it’s simpler to just stay in the gang.
Countless men, women and children have lost their lives to gangs. Prisons are filled with gang members. Yet everyday more and more kids are joining. As you’re reading this article some kid is pledging their allegiance, getting their first gun or committing their first criminal act to prove their loyalty. The problem lies in a flawed thought process that people believe the only way to escape a negative environment is through crime. More leaders and better role models are needed. Parents have to be parents and take responsibility not only for their lives but also for the lives of their children. People need to act in a manner that will break the poverty cycle. That includes stop abusing drugs, a reduction in teen pregnancy and placing a premium on education to combat the drop out rate. The gang epidemic is not a poverty problem. We cannot allow ourselves to be so naive because gang violence have erupted in in malls and other public places in suburban America. Intended targets as well as innocent bystanders get killed during drive-by shootings. The gang problem effects everyone’s quality of living. The tax dollars used to imprison gang members can be used for gang prevention programs. like tutoring and mentoring programs. We need more programs that create opportunities for the percentage of the population that are underprivileged in order for them to pick up a trade, take college courses and and become more financial literate. Finally the media needs to stop glamorizing the gangster culture and making celebrities out of criminals. It doesn’t make any sense for us to preach safer neighborhoods, gang prevention and an end to drug abuse and undermine our efforts by promoting the very things that we are trying to eradicate.