– “Jose”, 19
He doesn’t want to reveal his name. We’ll call him “Jose”. He was 12 when he joined a gang. Jose says, “I’m looking at them like, ‘Do I really want to do this?’ And they’re like, ‘If you’re going to do it you’ve got to say yes, you don’t think about it.’”
Saying yes meant a three-minute beating from four older gang members. He says, “They only give you three chances to fall down. After the third one, you got jumped for being stupid.” He didn’t fall down. He was beaten and bloody, but he made it into the gang.
Police say at first, gangs hide the crime and violence from their new recruits. Corporal Edward Campuzano, a gang officer with the Cobb County Police Department in Georgia says, “To them it’s one big party. What they don’t realize a lot of times, is that it might be like that at the beginning, but if you stay focused on that gang and you progressively get older, you’re progressively required to do other things and start committing crimes and start giving back to that gang.”
He says parents should explain to kids that “giving back to the gang means” fighting, stealing, and killing people. Corporal Campuzano says, “That’s when it doesn’t become appealing to them and they try to get out, and they can’t get out because now they have to take what is known to them as a beat out.” It’s a beating to get out of the gang. Jose says, during the beating, gang members could use any weapon but a gun. Often kids die….others barely live. Jose says, “Usually I know guys paralyzed for life…sipping through straws.”
So Jose left the gang, but he was never “beat out.” Now, and maybe forever…he is forced to hide.
Jose is 19-years-old. He never finished school, never learned to control his temper, and has been fired from several jobs. That’s why he’s hoping his story will keep others out of a gang.
Tips for Parents
■Gang violence is not an urban problem or a rural problem, nor is it a problem for any one economic class – it is a community-wide problem.
■In 2002, youth gangs were active in over 2,300 cities with populations over 2,500.
■Over 90 percent of large cities (population over 100,000) in the United States reported gang activity between 1996 and 2001.
■There are more than 750,000 gang members nationwide.
■Ninety-five percent of hard-core gang members drop out of high school, and most range in age from 12 to 24.
■The media’s dissemination of gang culture and a restructuring of the economy (unemployment, increases in the urban underclass, etc.) are cited as major factors in the rise of gangs during the ‘90s.
A street gang occurs when three or more people share a unique name or display identifiable marks or symbols (e.g. tattoos, clothing styles, colors, hairstyles, graffiti) and associate together on a regular basis, often claiming a specific location or territory. A gang will have an identifiable organization or hierarchy, and a typical gang will engage in antisocial, unlawful or criminal activity in an effort to further the gang's social or economic status. Such behavior can be carried out either individually or collectively.
Risk factors for gang membership include individual characteristics, family conditions, problematic parent-child relations, low school attachment and academic achievement, peer group influences, prior and/or early involvement in delinquency (especially violence and drug use), association with peers who engage in delinquency, community context, and disorganized neighborhoods where many youth are in trouble. Often, a gang provides young members with comforts society and/or family fails to give them. A gang can morph into the child’s parental unit and also his/her sibling. Gangs can provide a sense of belonging, security and economic opportunity. Unfortunately, most monies are generally attained through crime.
Gender-mixed gangs are becoming more common. Years ago, females were considered property of gang members. Today, some gangs are initiating females as full-fledged members. Estimates indicate between 25 and 33 percent of all youth gang members are female. Consider the following:
■Police see gang recruitment directed toward students as early as elementary school.
■A survey of nearly 6,000 eighth-graders in 11 cities found that 11 percent were currently gang members, and 17 percent said they had belonged to a gang at some point in their life.
■Gang members are far more likely than other delinquents to carry guns and, perhaps more importantly, to use them.
■Research has consistently shown that adolescents are significantly more criminally active during periods of active gang membership.
■Gangs are showing increased sophistication. For example, hard-core gang members are shying away from wearing gang colors or getting symbolic tattoos, knowing school and police authorities will recognize such signs.
Kids often participate in gang activities without their parents’ knowledge, and children can become interested in gang activity as young as elementary-school age. As a parent, it is important to be aware of the warning signs that could indicate your child’s interest in gangs. This is a partial list of those signs, compiled by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services:
■Your child suddenly begins performing poorly in school
■He/she doesn't attend school regularly
■He/she becomes disinterested in extra-curricular activities or family events
■He/she has negative contact with the police
■He/she writes the name of a gang in graffiti, or you find gang symbols in his/her notebooks or in his/her room
■He/she has problems at home
■He/she has gang tattoos
■He/she has friends who are in gangs
■He/she dresses in gang clothing
As a parent, you can play a huge role in helping your child feel accepted, important, worthy and loved – the feelings he/she seeks. For instance, if you continually skip meetings with teachers or don’t attend your child’s team games or extracurricular activities, your child may begin to feel unwanted or underappreciated, increasing the risk that he/she will seek approval elsewhere. Experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have developed a list of other tips to help you minimize the chances of your child joining a gang:
■Get to know your child's friends, how they influence him/her and what they do when they're together. Discourage your child from hanging out with gangs.
■Spend your free time with your child. Give him/her chores to do around the house or enroll him/her in after-school activities, sports, and community center or church programs.
■Stress the value of an education and motivate your child to do well in school.
■Develop good communication skills with your child. Good communication means that it's open, frequent and positive. This will allow your child to express himself or herself and confide in you.
■Find positive role models for your child.
■Plan activities for the entire family, such as trips to parks, libraries, museums or the beach. Give your child attention!
■Give your child some one-on-one time – your undivided attention.
■Don't let your child wear clothing that resembles gang wear. It might attract attention from the wrong people.
■Set limits and rules for your child. From an early age, let him/her know what is acceptable and what is unacceptable. Enforce a curfew. Don't let him/her hang out until all hours of the night.
■Don't let your child write or draw gang-like graffiti.
■Get involved in your child’s education. Go to his/her school, get to know his/her teachers and attend parent-teacher events.
■Learn about gangs and gang activity in your community. Get educated!
■Faith and the City
■Gang Resistance Education And Training
■Michigan State University
■The National Youth Gang Center
■U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
■The Nawojczyk Group, Inc