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What are street gangs? How can one recognize a street gang? What do street gangs do? “Three or more people, who share a unique name or have identifiable marks or symbols, associate together on a regular basis and sometimes claim a specific location or territory, have an identifiable organization or hierarchy, and either individually or collectively engages in antisocial, unlawful or criminal activity in an effort to further the gang's social or economical status are known as street gangs” (Gang Definitions). In the film, Freedom Writers, the increasing epidemic of gang life forces a hardship on numerous characters. During the movie some of the characters choose to participate in these illegal activities, while others are forced to deal with the effects through peer pressure and the negative influences of their neighborhood or families. This film displays the vast devastation and tremendous danger that street gangs perform to ruin communities, schools, and juveniles in society. Street gangs have never been a good thing. “Gangs are not a new phenomenon nor are the problems associated with them; however, they have never touched a greater segment of society as they do now” (Lewis). This is why the movie seems to be realistic.
The street gangs in the movie, Freedom Writers, are mostly separated based on ethnic groups. As stated in the Internet Movie Database, “The Asians, the Blacks, the Latinos, and a very few whites not only don't get along, but also stay with their own and are part of protective and violent gangs.” Mexican Americans and African Americans, the main races of the quarrel, are divided and fight constantly throughout the beginning of the movie. It is not made clear who or what started the problems, but the characters seem intent on keeping the tension alive. The feud even goes as far as a minor character being murdered, and one of the main characters witnessing it. Because her boyfriend allegedly committed the murder, she has to testify. All of the gang related problems in the film seem to disappear with a few in class group activities and a reading assignment given by the teacher, Mrs. Gruwell, about Anne Frank and the Holocaust.
Public schools have openly denounced gangs and gang activities. Even though schools threaten expulsion there are still large numbers of gang members in most inner city schools. Crips, Black Gangster Disciples, Bloods, and Vice Lords are four of the main gangs the run most urban cities, like Memphis, TN. Gangs have different ways of deciding formations and memberships.
“For the most part, gang structure is fairly loose. Leadership is usually assumed by a member who demonstrates dominant control at any given time. Most times, members are males from 13 to 28 years old, but police are also seeing female subsets of existing Memphis gangs. Contrary to popular belief, gangs are not just restricted to youths from disadvantaged and low income areas, many middle and upper class youths are also involved in gang activity. In addition, gangs are not just comprised of African-American youths; gang members represent all racial and ethnic groups” (Gang Awareness).
This statement helps demonstrate that it is not just the less fortunate who joins gangs, but there are also suburban member who will join for protection, attention, and even to make easy money.
How many members do most street gangs have? Where can I find street gangs? What names to these gangs answer too? “Once an urban problem, street gangs have now infiltrated U.S. communities large and small. Gang experts say at least 21,500 gangs — with more than 731,000 members — are active nationwide. Long-established domestic gangs like the Bloods and the Crips remain powerful, but the problem has worsened dramatically in recent years. Heavy immigration, particularly from Latin America and Asia, has introduced highly violent gangs like Mara Salvatrucha and the Almighty Latin Kings Nation. Bound by tight ethnic and racial ties, they often stymie police investigations by assaulting or killing potential witnesses. Having already diversified from illegal drugs into auto theft, extortion, property crimes and home invasion, some east coast gangs have begun trafficking in fraudulent identification papers that could be used by terrorists. While experts agree gangs are more pervasive than ever, few agree on a remedy. Proposed legislation would increase penalties for gang membership and gang crimes, but critics say it won't solve the problem” (Triplett). Since the mid-80’s gangs have rapidly grown as a whole and minor progress has been made to stop the recruitment process.
Preventing street gangs’ growth or even maintaining their current existence is not as easy as making the members read The Diary of Anne Frank, as Mrs. Gruwell does in the movie. One way of reducing or even putting a stop to street gangs is to target the youth, just as the street gangs do, through intervention, notification letters, and public citizens’ involvement. Intervention from parents or guardians once gang activities are discovered in the youth is ideal. Also, the police departments could start alerting the schools, the parents, and the community of any juvenile convicted of having any gang association or membership. Holding public service workshops to tell parents and concerned citizens what to look for in gang members will heighten their sense of alert. Parents and guardians can then talk to their children and know what warning signs to look for in an active youth gang member.
If everyone pitched in and helped out gangs could become a thing of the past. Even though these organizations have dated back centuries, each community can do their part to make sure that street gang violence will not be happening centuries from now. It is the duties of the upstanding citizens to take control of their own environment, and this should be the main reason to make plans geared towards taking back the streets. The opportunity of dissolving the street gangs has to start with the youth, because they are the future.