Safe streets and the cycles of gang violence
March 22, 2014 11:32 AM   Subscribe

What we talk about when we talk about gangs "Gangs (and their many incarnations) are complex social networks whose roots are deeply intertwined with those of the communities and socio-economic environments they call home. Not unlike the military, they offer youth a surrogate family, something to belong to, someone to watch their back, and something to fight for. But they also offer so much more – the promise of a social circle, the possibility of controlling what would otherwise control them, an outlet for frustration or revenge, and a name, status, and “juice” (respect). Respect, in particular, is a highly coveted commodity for kids that feel beat down or oppressed by circumstance. If they can prove themselves worthy of being feared, people will be less likely to mess with them just for the hell of it."

This is the second of a six-part series exploring the effects of chronic community violence in the public space on the health and well-being of the community of Watts, how and why those effects can constrain the ability of young people to transcend their circumstances, and some of the approaches different agencies and community-based organizations have taken to try to bring positive change to the area.
posted by mandymanwasregistered (30 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
One thing that really interests me is how much we've just written off a lot of these communities. I remember tons and tons of ink being spilled in the 90s and 2000s about gang violence and stuff and it just feels like we've decided it's too hard a problem to solve, so fuck it, and just written off many of these areas as unsolvable problems.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


I'm halfway through the first piece and had basically the same thought as Ghostride The Whip. We're allowing generations of kids to be raised with worse cases of PTSD by the time they hit 14 than someone who's done a couple tours in an actual war zone. And then we fling up our hands because those kids grow up and things don't get better and we act like we don't know how they got that way. All my fixit instincts go into overdrive and I have no idea where to even start looking for how to start.
posted by rtha at 12:26 PM on March 22, 2014 [11 favorites]


First off, to help, you start by cutting food stamps and by forcing parents to work longer irregular hours for very low pay (no)....yeah, I work in a neighborhood with a lot of gang activity and once kids are in, it's very difficult to help them choose another path. That's why I think Tookie got the death penalty- not because he killed someone, but because he started a chain of violence that just seemingly has no end....
posted by bquarters at 12:37 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Jobs.
posted by wuwei at 12:45 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


Lessons from 'Batman,' an ex-Chicago gangster
I think it was the fall, the year my mother told us she'd decided to go to Chicago. We were on the porch back in Arkansas -- me, my nine brothers and sisters -- and she said, "I'll be back to get y'all."
...
We settled into a four- or five-bedroom house on the West Side of Chicago. When I was 14 years old, our house caught fire. It was the year of the blizzard, 1979.

You couldn't begin to imagine what life was like after that happened. I was a freshman in high school and we had to move to the Cabrini Green housing project.
...
We were raised in the church, we were raised with morals and values, to respect people. But when we got to Cabrini, those values went out the window.
...
I first joined the Gangster Disciples in 1983 because I wanted to fight man to man -- just so I didn't have everybody jumping on me at the same time.

But all the time I was a member of the Gangster Disciples, I had a hidden agenda: to secretly detour kids from gangs and drugs even though I was involved with the gang.

I was going to change this one way or the other. I wasn't going to allow one child to be bullied by 10. And sometimes I would lurk in shadows, and I would watch how certain people conducted certain things. And I moved in.
“The Greens” Documentary
The Greens is a personal journey documentary that starts when a white college kid sits down in a black barber’s chair. As Sam and Teddy talk, they realize they spent most of their lives four blocks apart on Division Street – Sam at a private school in Pulaski Park, and Teddy on the other side of the Chicago River, in the high rises of Cabrini Green.

There, in “The Wild End,” Teddy leads Sam to Batman, a legendary gang-leader, basketball player, and poet who controlled the drug trade in the high rise at 660 West Division. But all is not as it seems with Batman. The two-dimensional news-media images of Sam’s childhood clash with Batman’s reality, raising questions about choice, sacrifice, and morality...
posted by Golden Eternity at 12:52 PM on March 22, 2014 [6 favorites]


I hear you rtha. I would start with supporting struggling families in the following:

1. Increasing minimum wage, address income inequality and help people with various abilities get living wage jobs using the skills they have. Consider work training a job and stop requiring parents to both work and go to school and work even more to pay for the school on top of that. No one is there to raise the kids when parents do this and the parents are depleted and exhausted and unavailable even when around when working 2 jobs and doing school and many parents give up and turn to drugs or other coping mechanisms because they just can't meet that level of demand. Stop shaming families for using welfare and foodstamps, and make sure support services are well funded and that staff are educated about class issues, trauma and functioning while under stress and in unhealthy conditions.

There is this huge push to get single moms off welfare and to get poor moms in the workforce, often who would rather be parenting their children to begin with. There is an organization here in my city that is run by women who volunteer during the week (you know because they are stay at home or part time working moms themselves) to "get poor women off welfare" by encouraging these moms to both work AND go to school which leaves no one raising their kids during that time. Often the moms will be studying while the kids are raising themselves and that's kind of the "best case" scenario we are trying to force on poor families.
Over worked exhausted parents who aren't paid enough to supplement their exhaustion by hiring others to help with the work of mentoring, playing with, feeding, cleaning up, and caring are more likely to be stressed out, miserable, cranky.

Stay at home or part time working mothers and fathers play a huge role in making schools in "better" neighborhoods more enriching environments, by petitioning for better resources, by volunteering to help the teacher with her classroom duties, by tutoring kids leading activities, and creating interactive projects. Lower income neighborhoods have far fewer parent resources to make up for the complimentary lack of monetary resources.

2. Help families exit domestic violence situations by providing greater resources for parents who are struggling. Many single parents struggle with the load of parenting and bills and daily life and are without an extensive support network and subsequently aren't able to leave abusive partners because they literally can't make ends meet to pay the bills and buy clothing and living supplies and toys and craft supplies and enrichment activities and tutoring-- or they really can barely make it through the day and they need a crutch that having another person around becomes a literal lifeline even if the person is really harmful in some ways. People tend to judge those who stay as making a "wrong" choice but survival isn't as black and white as that.

Poverty itself is also abusive and can also cause disease and mental illness and death. Helping families get reliable SAFE housing opportunities and extensive support services to help with the grinding difficulties of carrying a huge level of trauma and fatigue and difficulty with so little support opens the door for people feel safe to leave abusive partners because they have the support to really do so and still care for their families.

3. Better resources and mentorship for parents with disability, illness, stress, and crisis making daily life difficult including tutoring, enrichment and play activities and house hold help for struggling low income families. A lot of moms are totally overwhelmed and if you are a poor totally overwhelmed mother the system is not there to be your friend, it's there to asses how bad you are to your child, whether to remove the child and how to force you into compliance. (Or to ignore you entirely in which case you are probably luckier.) The only way to get help and emotional support with daily life and paying bills from someone who won't set the bar of expectations so far beyond your capacity as to be harmful often IS to deal with someone who is potential abusive or "using you" for your vulnerability but is willing to offer some of the needed emotional and physical resources for however long that can go on without the set up exploding.

There are many many reasons domestic violence and parental absence and neglect occur and some of those reasons may indeed be "parents choosing to be assholes" or just genuinely not caring that much about their kids-- but for all the other reasons there is a lot we DO understand about why this is happening and what we can do about it. It just requires a lot more resources, exploration of research and statistics on cause and effect, compassion, understanding, and work than we currently are putting into supporting families and neighborhoods that are struggling.
posted by xarnop at 1:29 PM on March 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


And then we fling up our hands because those kids grow up and things don't get better and we act like we don't know how they got that way.

I've never heard anyone say that. They just don't want to spend the money.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:34 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


All my fixit instincts go into overdrive and I have no idea where to even start looking for how to start.

Free preschool all day starting right from as young as you dare, followed by good K-12 schools, also all day, so kids are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school, and then free college, so those kids become adults who are ready to work and pay taxes to raise the next generation.

Giving that to a kid would be pretty cheap compared to the alternatives.
posted by pracowity at 1:43 PM on March 22, 2014 [13 favorites]


xarnop, your description of the push for single mothers (actually, all parents) to enter the workforce instead of relying on welfare reminded me forcibly of this part from Ethan of Athos, by Lois McMaster Bujold.
Elli Quinn quirked an eyebrow. “How odd. On other worlds, people seem to come in floods, and they’re not necessarily impoverished, either.”

Ethan, diverted, said, “Really? I don’t see how that can be. Why, the labor costs alone of bringing a child to maturity are astronomical. There must be something wrong with your accounting.”

Her eyes screwed up in an expression of sudden ironic insight. “Ah, but on other worlds the labor costs aren’t added in. They’re counted as free.”

Ethan stared. “What an absurd bit of double thinking! Athosians would never sit still for such a hidden labor tax! Don’t the primary nurturers even get social duty credits?”

“I believe,” her voice was edged with a peculiar dryness, “they call it women’s work."
How stark the assumptions behind the movements you describe suddenly become when Bujold renames the whole childrearing-must-be-free thing "hidden labor tax." Which is what it is. It should be valued---see the bit about "social duty credits"---but all the mom and apple pie imagery aside, it is not valued at all, not as a contribution to economy. Noooo, contributing people have to be in the "real" economy.
posted by seyirci at 1:54 PM on March 22, 2014 [22 favorites]


I've never heard anyone say that.

I have. I have very recently heard it called lazy inner-city men who don't want to work. If that's not acting like you don't know what one of the biggest actual problems is I don't know what it is. Well, it's a racist dog-whistle, too, of course.
posted by rtha at 2:00 PM on March 22, 2014 [14 favorites]


Job training and education don't help when there are no job openings.
posted by wuwei at 3:23 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every kid has a job: get an education. The job openings that do exist are going to go to educated people.
posted by pracowity at 3:43 PM on March 22, 2014


Sahra Sulaiman's work on Streetsblog LA has been excellent. If you have the time, I'd recommend going through the archives.
posted by RakDaddy at 3:55 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Every kid has a job: get an education. The job openings that do exist are going to go to educated people.

Those job openings go to educated, mobile people who don't have a criminal record. (And that mobility thing costs money, btw.)
posted by scaryblackdeath at 3:58 PM on March 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


> Well, it's a racist dog-whistle, too, of course.

fuller sits on hands, grits teeth. will...not...derail....
posted by jfuller at 4:15 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


There aren't enough job openings for all the people who want jobs. For example, in January of 2014 there were 4 million job openings, but 10.2 million job seekers.

More education doesn't help-- someone is always going to be the losers in a job market this bad, and increasing the overall education level does nothing to change that.
posted by wuwei at 4:20 PM on March 22, 2014 [3 favorites]


bquarters: "That's why I think Tookie got the death penalty- not because he killed someone, but because he started a chain of violence that just seemingly has no end...."

METAFILTER: Murderer, Thief, Philanthropist
posted by symbioid at 4:36 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


pracowity: "All my fixit instincts go into overdrive and I have no idea where to even start looking for how to start.

Free preschool all day starting right from as young as you dare, followed by good K-12 schools, also all day, so kids are eating breakfast, lunch, and dinner at school, and then free college, so those kids become adults who are ready to work and pay taxes to raise the next generation.

Giving that to a kid would be pretty cheap compared to the alternatives.
"

Yeah, but then what would all those prison guards and CEOs for companies like CCA do?
posted by symbioid at 4:43 PM on March 22, 2014 [1 favorite]


Can't we just fire the police and hire the gangs to do their job? Would it really be worse than what we have now?
posted by happyroach at 4:47 PM on March 22, 2014 [4 favorites]


"Police (and their many incarnations, like the FBI and other security forces) are complex social networks whose roots are deeply intertwined with the interests of the elite's communities and socio-economic environments. Not unlike the informal street gangs, they offer youth a surrogate family, something to belong to, someone to watch their back, and someone to cover up their misdeeds. But they also offer so much more–the promise of a social circle, the possibility of controlling what would otherwise control them, an outlet for frustration or revenge, and a name, status, and "juice" (respect). Respect, in particular, is a highly coveted commodity for cops that feel slighted somehow. If they can prove themselves worthy of being feared, people will be more likely to kowtow to them despite their continuing reign of violence."
Oops.
posted by moink at 4:56 PM on March 22, 2014 [9 favorites]


How's that line go? "Jocks suck, gangsters suck, cops are both"?
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:50 PM on March 22, 2014 [2 favorites]


"The police department is like a crew
It does whatever they want to do"

Alls I know is I've got the NYPD near me and the Hells Angels and I'm a lot more concerned about the former causing me some sort of trouble or just running me down on the street. NYPD does not drive very well.

This one time I stumbled on a forums for former members of NYC street gangs of the 60s and 70s. A lot of them seemed to be into MCs, outlaw or not, these days. It was serious High MySpace design, but amazing pictures. The Warriors is way truer to life than I expected.

Here's the board administrators' YouTube, so you don't have to register.
posted by save alive nothing that breatheth at 6:27 PM on March 22, 2014 [5 favorites]


There aren't enough job openings for all the people who want jobs. For example, in January of 2014 there were 4 million job openings, but 10.2 million job seekers.

More education doesn't help-- someone is always going to be the losers in a job market this bad, and increasing the overall education level does nothing to change that.


That's a good point, but I would think a well-designed education program could also help create jobs, by enabling people to start businesses and learn to provide services they can make money from. Still, an intervention aimed at creating positions (without ludicrous give-aways like gratuitous subsidies or tax cuts, which are too common) should probably be the main effort in achieving close-to-full employment.
posted by clockzero at 12:15 AM on March 23, 2014


That's a good point, but I would think a well-designed education program could also help create jobs

Yes, but it's not just that.

Free extended-day preschool/K-12/college counteracts street life: it keeps kids relatively safe all day, makes sure they're eating and exercising right, keeps them monitored by school physicians and psychiatrists, and (at least compared to the street) protects them from bullying and gangs. Extend the day by organizing sports and music/arts programs that keep kids happily in school, and offer time to work through homework at school with tutors. Even work siesta time into the school day. If some of their homes are not nice places to live, at least they can get showers and stay warm and dry at school. If some of the adults at home aren't the greatest role models, at least the kids would be spending lots of time with good role models during school hours. By the time the kids go home, there should be nothing else they need that day but to spend time with family, brush their teeth, and go to bed.

An extended school day also frees mothers and fathers to work or get their own educations while the kids are safe somewhere else. If you don't provide child care, you can't expect poor parents to do much more than scrape by without improving themselves.

And do school all year. No more long summer breaks. Schools could shift into easy summer mode to give kids a break (all sports and arts and fun electives for a couple of months). But don't close down and leave everyone in the lurch for two months.
posted by pracowity at 1:11 AM on March 23, 2014 [7 favorites]


I volunteered at an after-school tutoring program for several years. Our #1 goal was to keep the kids (high school students) in school, since the drop-out rate in this district hovered around 60% (and this is in Canada). Our #2 goal was to give them a safe, warm, fun space to hang out with their friends so they wouldn't fall prey to neighbourhood gangs.

Bored kids would hang out in metro stations because it was warmer than their living room, and this was a prime pick-up spot for gang activity. Giving these kids a better option (and it wasn't exactly luxurious; this was a church basement with a few tables set up for homework, and another room with a video game console, a table hockey game, a TV and a few laptops) meant they had a safe place to be.

The whole program cost a few thousand dollars a year. Every dollar counts.
posted by third word on a random page at 4:11 AM on March 23, 2014 [4 favorites]


sigh. it seems to me that we're never going to solve this problem until we as a society learn to value childcare and home care (of the elderly, etc.) and education as real jobs that are just as valuable as, say, my husband's mechanical engineering job. Because they are.

My brother-in-law and sister-in-law made a willing go of trying to run a community childcare center. They both have secondary education in business and they both have experience and backgrounds as childcare professionals. They failed, not because their business model was bad, but because their client base simply could not afford to pay them what their services were worth, and despite spending over a year trying to make a go of it, they wound up working for less than minimum wage, in Albuquerque NM (which is by far not the most expensive place to live).

I don't know what the solution to this is, beyond socially reprogramming our entire culture to value childcare / care work and education as actual work, not unpaid / low paid slave labor.
posted by lonefrontranger at 7:33 AM on March 23, 2014 [3 favorites]


So via youtube, now I'm on the "Inside the Bloods and Crips" documentary (looks like NatGeo doc), and it seems a bit "Whitey McWhiterson True Crime" style talking (you know VRY SRS WHITE MAN TELLING THE TRUTH ABOUT HISTORY), but so far, it is interesting.

They talk about how each street had their own "gang" (which seems more like a bunch of bullies who rob you if you go into their turf than a full on gang like we think now, though I could be wrong)...

Anyways, this idea, here, made me think about the Whitey McWhitersons of the world, the paranoid gun-nuts on their property warning all and sundry to "git the hell offa" it.

The collectivist motif here, of a poor, underserved population, banding together to survive and so - communally, they have their hood, their turf, their own space. But it's collective, because they have to band together to survive. They don't own 40 acres and a house to call their own. They live in projects, in run down joints. They struggle to survive. The got lead paint everywhere. Slumlords. All that shit. So they band together, but they don't just consider one house their property, they consider the community they are in their property. They defend it from outsiders, just as surely as a shotgun totin' redneck spits out some chaw and and snarls at any who might approach.

Does anybody know any documentaries or books regarding the intersection of revolutionary politics (especially the Black Panther movement) and how it relates to the growth of gangs in the 60s/70s, and the formation of powers as self-defense, vs territorial gain against both cops/The State and other groups who profess their own territory and defense against the others? What about Tupac and the whole T.H.U.G. life thing? Was he really trying to turn shit around (apparently like Batman?) I know the BPP did some great things and later on some not so great things (especially after Eldridge Cleaver wormed his way into the joint)... And the Northeast/NY branch of the BPP was really fucked up. I think Chicago probably had the best chance of doing something right with Fred Hampton before they murdered him, and now, it seems like Chicago is the one most suffering from it all. One wonders what would have happened had Hampton survived. Could he have been a real voice in the community that could have united people and gotten them to move forward positively? Would he eventually succumb to the violence of the State regardless? Would he have ended up like Huey? Poor, poor Huey... So much potential and so much loss.

The Capitalist excess and American Dream has infected the gangs mentality. What was once revolutionary in some small way, at least in ideals at some of the topmost level, was eventually destroyed in the name of getting money, being pimps, just one more slave making machine, in the name of almighty Mammon.
posted by symbioid at 8:57 AM on March 23, 2014 [3 favorites]




Free extended-day preschool/K-12/college counteracts street life: it keeps kids relatively safe all day, makes sure they're eating and exercising right, keeps them monitored by school physicians and psychiatrists, and (at least compared to the street) protects them from bullying and gangs. Extend the day by organizing sports and music/arts programs that keep kids happily in school, and offer time to work through homework at school with tutors.


That's the big question- who's paying? Bill DiBlasio is having trouble here raising the money for pre-K, food stamps are getting cut, education budgets are getting slashed (our school is understaffed and in a very high need area)...who's paying? Those with the money so far have expressed less than overwhelming enthusiasm for even slightly higher taxes that would contribute to universal Pre-K (even for those making over 500k, if I remember correctly!), and the gap keeps growing...
posted by bquarters at 4:33 PM on March 23, 2014


I don't think this is something that can be solved with better education access, though, because the flip side to the whole problem is that gangs also fill a role in the community.

And, frankly, an afterschool program or better funded schools are still going to feel like a sterile and authoritarian alternative to the structure, respect, and sense of social purpose that gangs provide. People need lives and hope and reasons to go on.
posted by Sara C. at 10:42 PM on March 23, 2014 [1 favorite]


And, frankly, an afterschool program or better funded schools are still going to feel like a sterile and authoritarian alternative to the structure, respect, and sense of social purpose that gangs provide.

Possibly, but if you keep kids in school and off the streets starting early enough, keep them warm and fed, and give them some good options (sports, music, art, technology, academics), you'll give them avenues to respect (self-fulfillment, success, money, power, their own homes) that should be reason enough for most people to want to go on and not want to become just another underling to the local sidewalk tough guy.

This is the kind of thing that could be self-perpetuating if you threw a lot of resources at a generation or two of children. Help to raise a successful generation or two who can then afford to raise their own kids the same way.
posted by pracowity at 7:41 AM on March 24, 2014


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