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To believe that the existence of youth gangs and juvenile violence is a myth is to believe that its causes are also fictional. But what is so fictional about this reality? There is no denying that there are gangs, brought about by many of America’s youth, who wants a quick fix in life. Studies back this up. The national survey of law enforcement jurisdiction counted almost a million gang members in the United States. Among these gang members, 46,000 were involved in gang accidents that spurred a violent crime (Hunzeker, 1993). According to the study by the West Virginia University (Hunzeker, 1993), about 20,000 violent offenses were connected to gangs, which includes 974 homicides, occurred in America’s 72 largest cities. Our contemporary information about gang formation considerably attributes their existence, again, to poverty and other social problems. This factor is magnified further when you add the availability of drugs and weapons in the community into the scenario. These variables (poverty, drugs, and weapons) tell us much about the trend of gang formation. Research suggests that gangs and their crimes increase when community degenerates or if the economy drops (Hunzeker, 1993). Furthermore, when neighborhoods, schools, families in the community disperse or decays, most youth turn to gang membership as a means to build their esteem and re-establish their social identity. Now, there is absolutely nothing mythical about this. Truth of the matter is, gangs seem to be an attractive option where legitimate means of survival is lacking. Thus, gangs mirror society’s identity-juvenile gangs are the reflection of the youth on the very society they live in. Almost any enrollment to gangs affords the youth protection and excitement, which is why the propensity for violence is always there. Drugs and weapons connected to the crime is only the direct result of the gang’s inherent objectives. But the most violent crimes connected to gangs are not random shootings or drug disputes; rather it is the escalation of disputes between rival gangs.
II. There are various points of views from experts on the causes of youth gangs and violence. John Hagan and Bill McCarthy of Cambridge University offer an insight between the relationship between juvenile and their participation to criminal activities. Moreover, they added, the common profile of a street youth is male, around 18 years old and comes from a broken home. “Approximately 30% had lived with both biological parents before leaving home, 24% had lived with step-families, 18% had lived with a lone-mother, and 17% had lived in foster or group homes before taking to the street” (Hunzeker, 1993). A full 87% of youth have undergone physical violence from their parents or guardian; and another 60% of them were bruised due to assault. Most criminologists peg street crimes to young men who are poor, unemployed, badly educated and frequently raised in unstable homes. These men account more than half of street crimes occurrences. These are the base roots of street crimes, but to explain why juvenile turns to street crime needs a much detailed analysis. Experts say that variables like poverty and poor health influence criminal behavior, but there is a large disagreement among them in what actually causes youth to go against the law and injure others. Elliot Currie, a crime expert of University of California at Berkeley for example, believes that street crimes are largely due to the U.S. failure to support poor families (Robinson, 2003, 2). In this case, there is a widespread inequality that gives rise to resentment and anger. Mercer Sullivan an anthropologist of Vera Institute, on the other hand, believes that education is to blame (Mears & Travis, 2004, 31). He thinks that poorly educated young individuals, regardless of their race, are all curious of “exploring” crime. But as time moves on when some individuals mature through getting decent jobs, while others didn’t because of racial disparity, inequality or other unjustifiable reasons that negatively affected them, these individuals become desperate and turns to street crime-such as burglary and mugging-to compensate. Other experts thrust their blame on the environment; others to mental disorder; still others to negative influences. At the same time, these youth begin to see the social system as unfair who look at themselves as unemployable, which significantly increases their involvement to possible criminal action. Now, why is this so? Because these juveniles grew up in a conventional society where they believed eventually betrayed them. Thus, they responded with depression and guilt, leading to a passive withdrawal and criminal behavior inhibition. They begin to narrow down their options and see that crime is the better alternative than employment to compensate their material needs.
III. Addressing this issue begins looking for changes on how this problem can be mitigated, which can lead to more feasible solutions. In this case, we describe law enforcement authorities. Typically, the police try its best to curb the increasing problems of juvenile street crimes. They have two approaches: An aggressive stance and punishment to those hard-core predatory gang members; and the prevention of recruitment and early intervention to would-be gang members These two approaches may be effective on a poor community that has had enough of gang-related street crime. But what happens when there’s a gang increase in a comparatively affluent towns and suburbs. The loophole of this approach is purely on perception. Usually when forums revolve around homeless youth, they are always tagged as the criminal perpetrators. This is due to the deeply rooted perspective that endured to popular media, which believes that delinquent street, homeless youths are bad, deviant, troubled, or misguided, who apparently have left their homes with insignificant reasons. Once out to the streets, they are labeled as involved in criminal activities, which puts at risk the public’s health and safety. It is they who are the usual suspects for disturbing the peace; that causes problems to the public; that are driving away tourist by making streets unsafe; etc. Yet, these forums fail to point out that these homeless juveniles equally are victims of street crime. When living in the streets, young individuals are highly exposed to delinquent activities, dangerous locations, proximity to other offenders-that can all lead to victimization. Police and the community must have a better understanding of the causes.
IV. First essential facet to improve on change preconceived ideas and stop the stereotyping and profiling juveniles on the streets. Officials and law-makers can start with the media, especially in this time and day where the bread and butter of television news are the spicing up of events. According to Rose (1994), street crimes are the coal that boils the crisis boiler. Reportage of street crimes are exaggerated in the United States that the real facts of the matter are left out to give way to perception and sensationalizing of events.
The trouble with this source of information is that media executives reinforce their viewer’s stereotype by showing only one side of the offenders and not taking account of other reasons of the crime. Television enables its viewers to categorize what crime to what offender commits them, without giving more extensive information on why that crime took place in the sociological level. Viewers, in turn, are fed with profiling street juveniles. It shows that news reports overstate crime committed by minorities by consistent reportage and tableau of either Blacks, Latinos, Asians, etc. in a crime that shapes to false perception, which skews reality by giving a scary and untrue image of crime in America.
What is needed as one of the most essential solutions to curbing juvenile street crimes is more information towards the public viewers on what sets criminal behavior among their youth. The community should realize that a criminal incident is not an isolated case-it is brought about by multiple, interrelationship of the juveniles’ condition, including poverty, homelessness, etc. The viewing public should see the connections of why street crime occurs. This is the only way to begin a solution against social delinquency, through a keen observation of interrelated factors.
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