Gangs And Violence In Southern California Criminology Essay

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This paper was done in response to an article that I came across in which a child was convicted as an adult for homicide. The homicide was supposedly gang-related; the young child that was only 14 years of age was painted as an entrenched gang member. This article made me think what contributed to this situation and how it can be eradicated from today's society so this will never happen to any of our youth. The solutions provided in this document are a response to the growing need for schools, school districts, county offices of education, and state legislatures to address youth gangs.

Children are our greatest asset in the world today: They give parents the greatest feeling in the world. Parents go through their children's fears, disappointments and tears and still feel the great energy that radiates around them. Parents feel and shape every aspect of their children; however, the most influential program shaping children today is their educational system. Parents think that sending their children to get an education does nothing more than give their child a chance to succeed in life, what a powerful influence education is. When we think of power influences we want them to be the best, this tends not be the case. In fact schools are on a steady decline in the field of nurturing our children but rather they fill our children's gaps in their lives with very harmful, manipulative themes. A prominent harmful, manipulative theme that is becoming increasingly a younger trend is gangs.

Gangs, and more specifically, gang violence is a growing phenomena among children among middle school and even elementary kids. Gangs are becoming more attractive to our young ones. As a result, more children are being subject to the drugs and violence that come along with the gang life. Kurt Kumli, supervising deputy district, said, "Every week I'm noticing an increase in the number of reported gang-related altercations at the middle school level." Kumli has seen, first-hand, the results of younger kids being drawn to gang ranks. The results threaten our children at a younger age and are thwarting the virtuous influence of education/school that we try to inspire our children with. It seems that our children see the some good out of joining a gang, whether it is because of security, fear, or pure nostalgia, it is happening and needs to be stopped nationally; the only way to stop gangs is through a national perspective because of the origins of gangs and because they are engrained in today's culture and need to be a nationwide, or at least statewide initiative.

According to California law, legislators, law enforcement personnel and school officials are required to make a safe environment for all children and the community-at-large. The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act is the specific provision in the Penal Code that requires action by schools because "the right of every person, regardless of race, color, creed, religion, national origin, gender, age, sexual orientation, or handicap, to be secure and protected from fear, intimidation, and physical harm caused by the activities of violent groups and individuals." Obviously, this is an ambiguous law and as problematic as it is to find out what the law stipulates, it is just as difficult to implement and/or enforce. Along with this right that was, supposedly, established by the Act there are also various punishments, sanctions, and penalties for being associated with gangs and committing crimes in the name of gangs. The Act helps in making harsher punishment for gang affiliated individuals but the Act does not help with the growing attraction and the sense of need for gang activity in many young lives.

"They see it. They emulate it. They want to be a part of it," said Bernie Rosales, a person who grew up around gangs: This is the big problem with the gangs because this is how the gangs survive and thrive. "[However] it is the intent of the Legislature in enacting this chapter to seek the eradication of criminal activity by street gangs by focusing upon patterns of criminal gang activity and upon the organized nature of street gangs, which together, are the chief source of terror created by street gangs. The Legislators and officials need not punish or follow current gang members or perpetrators, but rather, dissolve the need for gangs in the communities, schools and in young ones lives. The Legislators need to focus on the problem that is at hand, which is how do we stop gangs entirely so we do not have to forfeit our normal way of life for a violent necessity. Today, gangs are violent necessities of many communities in the nation, but of California in particular.

For us to see why California has a need for gangs we need to take an in-depth approach and examine the origins and structures of gangs and their "so-called" families to find what makes the gang lifestyle attractive and even an necessity of communities. Chicano gangs in America were started around the 1930's as a means of protection of the Barrios (the ghettos of Mexicans in which the government kept them confined). In a sense, these gangs were formed originally as a kind of vigilante movement. The young people created their own world, a gang, that they could call their own because they felt they had no structure that fit them; the young Chicano males felt that there was no place for them in the current societal structure. The Chicanos perception of themselves was that they had no future and they are going to be written off in whatever they try to do, therefore, they protected what they felt was the only thing they had, the Barrio. For the Chicanos, they were neither Mexican nor American making them feel a stronger divide between themselves and the world. They got worst because they were used as scapegoats for what happened in and around the Barrios, coupled with the police being used as a gang to control street gangs, created the violent structure that we see today. In fact, according to Professor Luis Rodriguez, a former gang member himself, heroin was brought in by the police to subdue the defiant behavior of the Barrio gangs in East Los Angeles; similar stories happened in Detroit as well as Harlem, creating the correlating drug problem that comes along with gang life that we see today. There was a need to be crazy in the Barrio gangs to fight the racism and classism that existed in their surroundings. "Many gang members [today] are proud to call themselves crazy, hence the common use of the word "loco" in much of their language to denote they are unafraid or macho." This is a community entity now and protection for many people; now it is just something like a license you need to acquire to run your business or walk through your neighborhood.

The same system of gangs can be seen in Irish communities of the mid 1800's in which second class citizens create a new world because they were marginalized from society. There was no right of passage for them just as the Chicanos, but what separates the Irish gangs from the gangs of today is their ability to move out of their social class. The Chicano's pathway of life led to either the prison or the grave while the Irish used the street corner gangs as political tools in the community or rights of passage to achieve better things. No uplifting aspects were found in the Chicano gang structure because they were and are a severely oppressed group. Any achievement seen in the Chicano family structure is in spite of the oppression but it is definitely not expected of them.

Gangs are produced and ran by a system of threats. Threat is meant to describe a process in which perceptions and interactions work together to produce behavior. This threat along with economic, political, and other community structures help to build a culture:

"This culture has produced a 'code of the streets' in which 'nerve,' retaliation, and opposition to mainstream social institutions have become the norm. The sources of such a culture are largely institutional: the evaporation of factory jobs, increasing residential segregation, disinvestment in and by neighborhood institutions such as schools and neighborhood groups, and the resultant alienation and disenfranchisement of young people. Taken together, these forces create a neighborhood context within which threats are not effectively controlled, either by formal or informal social control processes."

This not just a threat that accounts for the origin of gangs but it is evidence that the community sees gangs as a permanent entity, in which they learn how to live and deal with gangs instead of dissolving gangs and their roots. Gangs, as we know them today, are not created from the need to protect one's self and their surrounding territory/community but rather for superficial reasons, to continue an institution of society. The once vigilante group formed was designed to protect, by any means, mostly through violence and the aforementioned threat is now survive because the threat that helped them survive is engrained in our young people at increasingly earlier ages. Even with the threat of violence members join, it seems, almost, daily. There is an aura that surrounds gang members, an admiration that is engendered by the streets, this is what is attracting our youth and the attraction is groomed in our high schools, middle schools, and, to a lesser extent, elementary schools.

There are constant fears that are associated with gangs which are related to such student-articulated concerns as per the following:

"Fearing gang disruptions at school or in the neighborhood; encountering gang members on the way to and from school; anticipating violence from known gang members enrolled at school; receiving specific threats or being harassed by gang members who stake out territory on school campuses or in neighborhoods; facing peer pressure to join a gang; being mistaken as a gang member during school or in neighborhood skirmishes between rival gangs; feeling threatened by school/neighborhood graffiti displaying gang territorial claims; perceiving an increased presence at school of firearms and other weapons related to gang activity experiencing alarm due to escalating interracial/ethnic tensions between gangs at school and in the community."

All of these problems are from students and are fears that are real and alive in almost every community of California, even some affluent neighborhoods. With these fears expressed, it is hard to understand why a child would ever want to choose a lifestyle that put fear into others and the same type of fear they once had; a life of violence and survival.

The life of a gang member is a struggle for survival and continues a struggle in a non-gang member, the fear of being a casualty. A "struggle for survival" is a crazy thing to believe a child goes into as a rational decision, but, the truth is, these are irrational decisions based on primal instinct to survive in communities that have these gangs as permanent entity.

Children are joining and regarding these gangs in the same as they would Boy Scouts, sports teams, or even fraternities or sororities. They are looking to fit in; they are looking to branch away from their parents; and want to be with friends. Some join because there is money in the illegal activity that gangs promote, such as drug-dealing. Some say the kids that join gangs are already trouble maker; kids already in the system. Conversely, many youths see the money, high-stature, and hard (man-like) persona of gang members and decide to join despite the violent and criminal aspects. To go against the fears of violence can only be explained by instinct, the instinct to survive in a community which gangs are more than common; more or less, the Darwinist concept of survival of the fittest. Our test in today's society is to find how to get our children out of survival mode and back into a child's role, which is deeper than gangs, not to punish those who are reacting to their own survival which the Street Terrorism Act addresses. The survival mode that exists stems from centuries of oppression of Blacks, Hispanics and other marginalized races.

There is a direct correlation between jobs and the formation of gangs. In the 1970's, in Los Angeles, 700,000 jobs were destroyed by the closing of industrial facilities. After that gangs increased because the lower income families had no economic life, no social recreation, and few educational opportunities, and they are expected to not succeed by being given these options only. The fact that some children find the right path and do not take the path to continue being a prisoner, criminal, and drug abuser, is in spite of the pressure to take the options given not because they were given viable options to succeed.

Gang members are looking for power of the community where there is none, only power perceived by the individual. They are vested in the streets and they need a sense of ownership. There is an example of a troubled school in Pennsylvania in which every floor of the school had different gangs and wall-to-wall graffiti except for a mural that was done by the gangsters themselves, no one ever tagged on the mural. They did not tag on the mural because they felt a sense of ownership. Blacks, Hispanics and other marginalized people are looking for empowerment, whereas, Whites and affluent member of society look for what they are entitled. This is the stigma that many youths are facing and this is what the Legislature should try and help instead of keeping are prisons full of gang members, creating an even greater gang problem in prisons.

California State Legislators need to take a state-wide approach to the bigger issue of gangs to stop the perpetuation of gangs through our youth. The failure of the Legislature to see the implications of the social, economic, and psychological context of gang life cannot continue. Problems like structural unemployment and children living in poverty. "We need both sticks and carrots. Most youths will respond to carrots (properly structured incentives and rewards). […] For those who don't respond to carrots, we need sticks (sanctions)." We need public policy that plans for long term dissolution of the sense of need for gangs in communities and, specifically, children. Only if we think of gangs as a broader socioeconomic problem are we able to dissolve them. We need to create more jobs in the inner-city should lead to a full-employment economy. A full-employment economy will help to give the youngsters that are involved in gangs a sense of belonging in a society that seems to have shunned them.

Unemployment and underemployment have a disparate impact on minorities and inner-city persons. It is important that legal economic opportunities for our youth and their parents or guardians are more lucrative that illegal opportunities satisfied by gang-life are supplied. The illegal economy sees no color lines and is always seeking employment to sustain itself; our challenge is to provide the same system through legitimate means through public policy. Every American of working age should be able to work.

Our second policy goal has to address the fact that youths are what sustains gangs and, therefore, need to be the ones we need to specifically keep from being disengaged from the norm. A national youth services programs that would be developed would serve as a job-training corps or a college-prep service, this program need to target the group that is most susceptible to gangs and their influences, 14-18 year old males, who live in poor inner-city neighborhoods. Given that children are feeling more disenfranchised with the current system, it is the government's job to boost morale by providing such services for our youth. The unique program is designed to function as an inspirational tool that says there is a different pathway for our youths, a path to successful jobs and/or a pathway to higher education and eventual success in life. This is the most important because our youth continue the cycle of gang involvement and to focus them on things besides gangs is a nationally innovative approach to an old societal problem.

We need community based programs promoted through schools that are at the most risk of gang involvement. The state needs to work with the various non-profit organizations and the schools to come up with viable programs that bring in students and their families to discuss the problem of gangs and why they are hurting our communities and our way of life because children are being affected. A community based program that were given funds to be implemented should be done on a larger scale: The School Violence Reduction Program expanded an existing asset forfeiture-funded program, provided funds for schools and school districts to implement a variety of school violence reduction programs and strategies to address identified local needs. The funds are administered through county offices of education and there is an evaluation component. Programs like these and others like this need to be implemented on a large scale.

There are a number of school violence prevention programs. Although much emphasis has been placed on drug prevention funding, violence prevention programs have had the most success. Some focus on individual children who are identified by teachers or peers as aggressive or at risk for school failure. These programs strive to increase student social competence and to reduce aggressive behavior. Another set of programs focuses on family risk by working with parents, peers, and community members. Other programs attempt to change the school environment. Still others believe the best way to address the school violence issue is to focus on legal reform, including federal civil rights legislation to establish the rights of children to attend schools which are, safe, secure and peaceful, like the Street Terrorism Act. As we have discussed, the latter approach does not get to the root of the problem but covers the problem with an ideal, not solving anything.

Being alert to the early warning signs of gang activity and being knowledgeable about gang patterns are essential to successful prevention and intervention efforts. School staff members need to understand how gangs operate, what kinds of gangs there are, and why gangs attract youths; identify vulnerable youths and their reasons for joining gangs; recognize the presence of gangs; and know the consequences of gang membership. A comprehensive gang prevention program is possible only through support of school policies and the cooperation of the school district, county office of education, local law enforcement department, and other community agencies, under state order. School in-service training can begin this process.

Overall, the State Legislature has come up short when it comes to the problem of gangs; this is a point in which theory does not work but specific, long-term, plans work well. The California Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act comes up short in its enforcement and prevention and only with certain solutions can these problems be dealt with; a blanket Act is not the answer. The state and the nation need to recognize gangs as a problem worthy of national attention, just as an issue like gay marriage. When the state and the nation recognizes this then we may get to the root of the problem by implementing guided and specific programs to deal with disenfranchised youths. Consequently we will help our children, our students to live without fear and without gangs as a permanent entity. In addition with the implementation of certain programs we may also help gang members feel a part of the community and put them on a path of legitimate success.

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