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Gang life in San Francisco
October 4, 2006 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Ima Gangsta -- the motivation and the regret. "San Francisco has an out of control gang violence problem, but what motivates young people to join gangs? Ruben City Palomares -- in his first film -- explores the reasons young homies choose to get jumped into a gang and reveals the lifetime of regret older gang members carry as a result of their fateful decision to be a gangsta. Palomares, 16, is a filmmaker with Conscious Youth Media Crew."
posted by derangedlarid (23 comments total)

 

And in 90% of San Francisco, you'd never know there was such a problem. As progressive a city as we're supposed to be, a lot of this stuff is out of sight and out of mind.
posted by bukharin at 1:48 PM on October 4, 2006


I've followed Ruben City Palomares since his first forays into the avant-garde in the mid-eighties. Back then, groundbreaking work such as "Cuntflap soup" and "I got the turtle's head Momma" was too much for many critics of the burgeoning cinema of disaffected inner-city youth to stomach. These days it seems every week spawns a new shedload of artistic sperm from a hard, throbbing black mind-phallus. It all boils down to the fact that black people are cooler than honkies, and crack is fun to smoke. Sex probably also plays a part.
posted by snoktruix at 2:02 PM on October 4, 2006


I have two graduate degrees and a good professional job, and I can't afford to live in San Francisco. How do gang members afford to live in San Francisco?
posted by jayder at 3:41 PM on October 4, 2006



I have two graduate degrees and a good professional job, and I can't afford to live in San Francisco. How do gang members afford to live in San Francisco?


Maybe crime pays?
posted by SBMike at 3:44 PM on October 4, 2006


someone translate snoktruix's post for me, I'm getting WAY too old.

I was about to send this link to my staff, a lot of the kids we work with are headed this way...but...A bit of a mixed message with that film. It lost me with the "gang is family" bit at the end which sort of negated all of the "don't do it" messages.
posted by HuronBob at 3:48 PM on October 4, 2006


Maybe crime pays?

That, and gang members generally don't have massive student loans to pay off.
posted by gyc at 3:54 PM on October 4, 2006


I can't watch the video till I get home, but thanks for the link to CYMC. I'm with a company that does video work for non-profits and foundations, and right now we're looking for interns and freelancers. Looks like a great org to keep in mind.
posted by brundlefly at 3:57 PM on October 4, 2006


I have two graduate degrees and a good professional job, and I can't afford to live in San Francisco. How do gang members afford to live in San Francisco?

Your tax money subsidizes their rent.
posted by jason's_planet at 4:53 PM on October 4, 2006


It lost me with the "gang is family" bit at the end which sort of negated all of the "don't do it" messages.

Gang IS family.

What a number of people don't understand is as BAD we think gang life is... it's often WAAAY better than the home life these kids face.

Remember they are often not JUST abused but simultaneously face extreme neglect. The only guidance, structure, boundries and affirmation they recieve is from other gang memebers. sure it comes with violence. But violence they are used to.

Never underestimate how powerful neglect can be to a young person. Any feeling of belonging is better.

One of my best friends is a drug councilor for gangs kids. You know hwo supports them MOST? Other gang memebers. Often the parents couldn't give a shit.

He is often at odds with some of the new anti-gang councilors in that getting kids lives together, getting off drugs, AND getting out of a gang are sometimes at odds.
posted by tkchrist at 5:04 PM on October 4, 2006


Sorry. Spelling! Ahhh. The spelling module is gone in Firefox for the mac.
posted by tkchrist at 5:06 PM on October 4, 2006


tkchrist writes "Gang IS family"

Nope, it behaves like a "supportive group" as a sterotyped family , but it has a distinctive "me and my group against everbody else" structure in which xenophobia, tuggish attitude and rites of passage make the gang _the reason_ for people to behave in a way..the reason for which the association is formed (friendship, support) is subverted and the gang becomes more important then friendship, support.

Indeed the young filmmaker is trying , I think with little success at least in this video, to display that "gang is family" is pure utter bullshit, it's a lie perpetrated by these who exploit gang-titude to have people do risky business for free or for little gain, high risk business like selling drugs.

tkchrist writes "getting kids lives together, getting off drugs, AND getting out of a gang are sometimes at odds."

Yep it must be quite a big mess after the damage is done ; clearly it is a lot more convenient to just blame gangsta-rap and declare a "victory" , where even by banning some particular kind of music, the mentality would just switch to jingoism. Yet I guess that if there is space for "x rap" then there is also space for lampooning x rap and explaining why doing what everybody else seems to be doing can be very stupid, at times.
posted by elpapacito at 5:26 PM on October 4, 2006


I have two graduate degrees and a good professional job, and I can't afford to live in San Francisco. How do gang members afford to live in San Francisco?

I think you are confusing paying your own rent with the government paying your rent.
posted by four panels at 5:29 PM on October 4, 2006




I have two graduate degrees and a good professional job, and I can't afford to live in San Francisco.

I have one crappy humanities degrees and a mediocre white-collar job, and I can afford to live in San Francisco. I pay about $750 rent, which admittedly is a chunk, but I have a reasonable amount left over for savings.

IMO, it's nowhere near as expensive as NYC.

???
posted by mrgrimm at 6:12 PM on October 4, 2006


tkchrist writes "Gang IS family"

Nope, it behaves like a "supportive group" as a sterotyped family , but it has a distinctive "me and my group against everbody else" structure in which xenophobia, tuggish attitude and rites of passage make the gang _the reason_ for people to behave in a way..the reason for which the association is formed (friendship, support) is subverted and the gang becomes more important then friendship, support.


Sure sounds like the modern family to me. People excuse almost any behavior when you're just "protecting your family."
posted by mrgrimm at 6:54 PM on October 4, 2006


Wow, unrebutted common sense on Metafilter! The sad part is that your typical San Francisco liberal actually thinks that public housing and Section 8 vouchers are helping people when they make it possible for high school dropouts and single mothers to stay in a town where barristas are Ivy Leaguers and carpenters have law degrees and MBAs.
posted by MattD at 6:59 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


MattD: huh?
posted by small_ruminant at 7:36 PM on October 4, 2006


Err, MattD has a point.

But that's another discussion for another day.
posted by huskerdont at 8:36 PM on October 4, 2006


The sad part is that your typical San Francisco liberal actually thinks that public housing and Section 8 vouchers are helping people when they make it possible for high school dropouts and single mothers to stay in a town where barristas are Ivy Leaguers and carpenters have law degrees and MBAs.

Nope. Not so simple.

I live a few blocks away from a public housing project, in a neighborhood well-known for its high level of gang activity. While anecdotal evidence doesn't mean much (especially when one theorizes from an ivory tower) I think I've learned some things about gangs & poverty & public housing while living here. I've come to feel that the real situation is much, much more complicated than smug quips & snarks like "your tax dollars pay for their housing" would imply.

For example:

* Street gangs appeal to a wider range of kids than just the kids of the extremely poor. Gangs are rooted very deeply in certain cultures & communities & have histories going back generations, providing not only a sense of "family" (however, real or false that sense may be), they also provide a means of taking part in a cultural traditional (however destructive that tradition may be) that's bigger than one's group of friends, one's extended family, etc.

* A lot of families in this area make ends meet not by receiving public assistance but by living in overcrowded conditions -- e.g., a 1-2 bedroom apartment might have 6+ extended family members living in it. "Baristas with MBAs" are generally unwilling to settle for living in such conditions.

* I will never voluntarily live near a public housing project again. That may sound surprising given what I've said so far, but, at least in this neighborhood, there seems to be little overlap between the gangsters I pass by on a daily basis and the teenagers/young men hanging out on the streets near the project. The latter are far more intimidating & don't appear to be organized into any sort of formal structures. While there are lots of streets in my neighborhood that I don't enjoy walking down at night, I will never walk down one of the streets that border the projects. (At the same time, I wouldn't advocate turning everyone in public housing out on the streets -- but I also don't claim to have any idea what the right solution is).

* I wonder how much our barista-with-an-MBA's coke and/or meth addiction contributes to the gangs' abilities to stick around in such an expensive city. I suspect that gangs make very good money trafficking the drugs done by others. Not to say this in any way justifies or excuses the existence of gangs -- just that taxpayers are probably not their primary or most lucrative source of income. One sees a lot of drug transactions around here -- and they seem to me much more a matter of business than of getting high.

* Given how bad the problem is, there's startling little law enforcement, police presence, etc., in this neighborhood. I don't know whether the cops are scared, don't have adequate resources, or just don't care. I do know that city hall doesn't care -- I've been loosely associated with the neighborhood association since I've lived here, and I've witnessed repeated failed attempts to get the supervisor of our district to even give us the time of day, much less hear us out. There are exceptions -- recently a group of very brave police officers risked their lives (e.g., were openly fired-upon) in breaking up a gang-related gathering in the children's playground just down the street. But for the most part, it's obvious that this area is near the bottom of the totem pole in terms of the city's law enforcement & violence prevention priorities. (Which reminds me, so-called progressive San Francisco voters just recently rejected a violence-prevention measure that was endorsed by just about every progressive & community-oriented group [that I know of, at least]).

Sorry for the extremely long-winded post. Living in a poor, high-crime area, but, at the same time, having gotten to know many of my neighbors and feeling no small amount affection for my neighborhood, this is a subject which affects me quite a lot. Reducing these issues to a simple NIMBY formula like "gang activity = poor people = taxpayer money subsidizing housing" strikes a very raw nerve. I don't know of a good solution, but I do know that it's a much thornier & more complex problem than such a formula supposes.
posted by treepour at 10:29 PM on October 4, 2006 [1 favorite]


a town where barristas are Ivy Leaguers and carpenters have law degrees and MBAs

Spoken like someone who actually lives here. Oh wait... never mind.
posted by jjg at 10:48 PM on October 4, 2006


The corollary to "the gang is family" is "for some people, children are a venereal disease."
posted by pax digita at 2:40 AM on October 5, 2006


elpapacito : "Nope, it behaves like a 'supportive group' as a sterotyped family, but..."

Perhaps the best phrasing would be "all other factors being equal, a gang is more like a family for a certain person than not being in a gang".

Sure, being in a band might be like a family, or a neighborhood sports group, or the like. Hence the phrase "all other factors being equal". That is, if person X is in no other organizations, and his twin brother Y is living in the same house with the same friends and with the same background is in a gang, person Y has something more like a family than person X.
posted by Bugbread at 6:55 AM on October 5, 2006




As for some better ideas for housing projects, there's a lot of great ones in Jane Jacob's The Death and Life of Great American Cities, a wonderful read for many reasons.

Besides living in overcrowded conditions, Bay View/Hunters Point has relatively cheap rents. Yes, you can't afford to live in San Francisco because a Victorian costs $2 million and a one bedroom apartment rents for, on average, about $1500/month, that's if you can find one - most are being turned into condos. It's a small city, so there's a very limited housing stock. But Bay View is pretty far out there, almost a suburb, really. It's kind of San Francisco's toxic shit hole.

A lot of the hopelessness of the black community in SF has to do with the destruction of the Fillmore neighborhood in the 1970s. What was once a vibrant community of diverse incomes and roaring jazz, it was rapidly undermined by city fathers who took federal funds to bulldoze it to build - well, nothing really. A poor neighborhood can't pull itself out of its misery without a dedicated and rising middle class that works to build on it and improve it. If the neighborhood is so bad that nobody who can afford to leave will stay, then you have the kind of mire you see in Bayview.

Unfortunately, as in most cities, the gap between rich and poor in San Francisco has become a terrible abyss. There are fewer and fewer middle class people here, because they can't afford to live in the rich neighborhoods (which is most of them) and don't want to live in the poor ones. This trend, coupled with the takeover of the city by tourism, really threatens its cultural vitality, just as it does in New York. The culture of wealth tends to be derivative, sterile and safe, and the poorest among us are all but slaves in this economy. There's no room for the rest, some of whom work with dedicated ingenuity on ideas and art that, while not immediately profitable, are the lifeblood of progress and civilization. Such people and such work die for lack of nourishment in a suburb; what they do requires the living breathing mass, the social organization and the collective mobile beauty of a great city.
posted by bukharin at 10:29 PM on October 5, 2006


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