Just when we thought we were safe—gang violence is making major headlines in 1999. For example, since August 1998, 12 people have been killed in an ongoing Miami gang drug turf war. Innocent bystanders have been injured. The youngest was an eight-year-old girl wounded by a stray bullet in a market owned by her family. The most violent shootouts occurred over the Christmas holiday weekend. Four men, including one police officer, were senselessly gunned down. Then, on December 29, just one day after Florida state, local Miami and federal officials announced “Operation Draw the Line,” directed at ending the gang street shoot-outs, three more victims were wounded during a vicious drive-by shooting. At the time of the writing of this article, one of the wounded, an 18-year-old boy, was not expected to survive. Similar stories have also been printed for cities such as L.A. and New York. Could this kind of violence happen in your city?
For many of us, news of gang-related violence seems unreal, far off, not possible in our town. Yet, experts warn that gangs are active all across America. They are no longer limited to individual cities, specific races or one economic class. It appears any interested party can open the door to gang membership. We must recognize that gangs have infiltrated middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. Gangs are in the suburbs. White-supremacist youth gangs are some of the most dangerous. Most gang members are heavily armed with sophisticated weapons, including machine guns, grenades, rocket launchers and military explosives. This means you and others in your community are potential victims of gang violence. Some may feel we are exaggerating, but gangs are real—and a real problem. The reality of the American gang subculture reveals a threatening sickness in our society. And the disease is spreading.
Many parents fail to recognize that their own children and teens are the most vulnerable to gang influence and gang violence. Gangs actively recruit both boys and girls. It is a part of their culture to do so. There is an alarming rise in the number of she-gangs.
Could your child fall under gang influence? Kids we would least expect to are joining gangs.
Experts tell us there are clear clues which indicate when a child is coming under gang influence. Many parents overlook the clues. Unfortunately, for some it has taken a real tragedy to reveal the truth about their child’s gang association. For example, police know that drive-by shootings are not acts of random violence, but pre-planned, well-organized hits. The families terrorized and dazed by bullets screaming through their living room windows have been forced to recognize their child was a gang member when their son or daughter or some other family member lay bleeding on the floor. Early detection of gang influence is your child’s best protection against gang violence. Let’s understand why so many of our kids are joining gangs.
Gang Culture Popularized
Let’s face it. Our society has glamorized and romanticized gangs. The publishing, film and television industries have delivered books, movies and programs year after year that have nurtured our love affair with gangs and the gang life. When you analyze the list of books, movies and TV shows produced over the last several decades, it is surprising to learn the number of western, mobster, and drug lord gang stories there are. The list is seemingly endless. Too much of this entertainment shows that a gang lifestyle of crime and violence really does pay off.
Mario Puzo’s Godfather series, made into film by Francis Ford Coppola, has become one of the most-read and watched series about the mafia. West Side Story was a very popular Broadway show. One of the most favorite westerns that embellished gang life was Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. This movie, far from the truth, glorified the lives of the two thieves. In the ’90s, it has been trendy to feature movies about black, inner-city gangs. Movies like Colors and New Jack City made gang life look exciting and thrilling. Several of these movies even used actual gang members as actors.
The music industry has had a big share in the popularization of gang culture. Though some feel it is on the decline, “gangsta rap” has produced millions of dollars in profit. This form of music deals with the traumas of young blacks growing up in the ghettos and underprivileged homes. Gangsta rap’s explicit lyrics promote violence and cop killing, degrade women and definitely mislead young listeners. Although our free-speech society allows it, gangsta rap should have been banned. Its bad fruits can be seen within its own ranks. Two of the most popular gangsta rappers, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls, have been brutally slain in drive-by shootings. Members of the rap music industry believe the deaths were the result of a war between two rival gangsta rap record companies.
The clothing industry has contributed to the popularization of the gang culture by promoting gang-style clothing. Many gang uniforms are made up of extremely baggy pants, worn as low as possible on the hips, oversized shirts, sports team shirts and certain styles of athletic shoes. Gang members often wear their shoes several sizes to large. The clothing industry has consistently featured models wearing this style of clothing. Our young people, desiring to be accepted, want to wear what is popular. Many parents, not aware of some of the dangerous meaning behind the baggy clothing, willingly buy it for their teens. Some teens, not associated with gangs, have been severely beaten because of their attire—being mistaken as members of a rival gang.
Some education officials desire to return to school uniforms to help curb the violence in the school and on the playground. Their reasoning: When each child dresses the same, there is little room to show off rival factions. Here in Edmond, Okla., our local middle schools have a controlled dress code. Because of the gang problems, sports team shirts are not permitted to be worn in school.
Can’t we begin to see that the popularization of gang culture makes it all the more attractive to our young people? But the reason why our kids are getting into gangs goes much deeper than pop culture.
Filling Basic Needs
Most adults shake their heads and wonder why young people would become involved with a lifestyle that appears to be so repulsive. The reason why kids get into gangs may shock us. Police, educators and legal professionals that successfully work with gang members have come to understand that gangs provide the basic needs the child feels he is not getting: security, a sense of belonging and success. These basic needs should be provided by the family. Kids join gangs because of our troubled families.
Most families today have both parents working. This means many children and teens are left to themselves in the after-school hours. Our kids feel alone and unprotected. We need to understand that becoming a member of a gang does not happen overnight. It is actually a slow process. But the drive for protection is one of the most compelling reasons why kids join gangs.
Mike Knox, 15-year veteran of the Houston Police Department and gang expert, writes, “Children are increasingly concerned about their safety in the community and in the school. Fear for their safety, whether the threat is real or imagined, is a legitimate concern. Unfortunately some kids are convinced that they must seek out the protection of a street gang to survive. . . .
“Many kids have told me they got into gangs because they felt threatened at school. Rather than turn to adults for help, they turned to their peers. Some kids look for the toughest gang or the one perceived as the largest in the area. Unknowingly the kids are enlarging the problem and creating the unsafe environment from which they are seeking the protection. The theory among some students is: the bigger the gang the more protection afforded the members. The reality is that gang membership increases the risk of violence directed toward the member. Larger gangs have more enemies; therefore the larger the gang the more likely violence will occur to its members” (Gangsta in the House, pp. 29-30). The number-one recruiting tool gangs use to draw new members is the offer of protection. The truth is, the new gang member enters a world of far greater violence.
Sense of Belonging
Children and teens need to feel they belong to something bigger than themselves. This makes them feel safe and secure. Strong families provide this sense of belonging. If the family does not provide this sense of belonging, teens will seek it elsewhere. Again, they often will go to their peers.
In November 1998, the Chicago Tribune featured a series on juvenile justice titled, “Killing Our Children: The Search For Justice.” These articles featured personal profiles of Chicago youth living the gang lifestyle. One profile discussed the tragic story of Arnold Riggs, son of a successful blue-collar worker. Riggs, along with two other teens, was arrested and convicted for the brutal murder of another teen.
The Tribune reported, “Riggs and the three other teenagers lived in a mostly stable, blue-collar neighborhood. They came from families who worked and cared about their children. They were students, athletes, churchgoers. But they still ended up with a gun, and a teenager—a teenager just like them—ended up bleeding to death on the sidewalk.” The families were devastated by their sons’ actions. Many asked why young men like Riggs and his friends would commit such a crime. It proved to be gang related.
“The enticement of the gang wasn’t the fast money to be made selling drugs,” the Tribune continued. “Unlike their counterparts in public housing complexes, these teenagers already had most of the accessories of adolescence: the shoes, the shirts, the stereo equipment. They say they didn’t need the protection either. The lure was the lifestyle. They knew guys who belonged. They learned the handshakes. They went to the meetings. It was, as Turner [one of the teens convicted with Riggs] put it, ‘a pastime.’
“‘We were still friends and buddies,’ he said. ‘Now, we had another common bond.’” Even though Riggs and friends had families, they looked to a gang for a deeper bond. Another major gang recruiting tool is the promise that the gang is family.
Gang leaders assure new recruits that they will get closer to the gang family than with their real family. Promises of doing more fun things add icing to the cake. This is a big draw for those young people who feel alone and unattended. “Contrary to the facade,” Knox writes, “there is no real sense of family. Most gang members will give up their ‘homeboys’ to the police, especially if it will mean an opportunity to take that person’s position in the gang. Mostly, gang members are simply groups of persons better able to commit crime together than individually.” It is a sad statement about our nation’s family life when our young people turn to gangs for the emotional love and support they need.
Search for Success
All human beings desire to be successful. But success does not come by instinct. It comes through education, discipline and hard work. It is a well-known fact that those who have become truly successful began their road to success at a young age, within the confines of family. The main responsibility of parents is to teach their children to be successful. Teaching and disciplining for success requires as much work and effort as it takes to learn how to be successful. Because of careers and other selfish interests, too many parents are falling short in this area. Some parents just don’t take the time to ensure their child will be successful. This is not only an American problem, it a major problem in all Western nations.
Gangs offer struggling youth the chance for success. “American street gangs are populated by persons who want to succeed and crave discipline,” Knox writes.
“Most young people who join gangs say that the reason they joined was for protection, but what they respond to is the ‘discipline’ provided by the gang. The ‘discipline’ is not the same as punishment. Punishment is sometimes used as a tool for discipline but it is not discipline. Discipline is, to the gang member, being at all the parties, backing up your homies, participating in jump ins, recruiting new members and the like. Discipline is the reminding of a person where the boundaries are and requiring him to adhere to those boundaries.” Of course, the success fostered by gangs involves criminal activity and acts of violence. For those outside the gang culture, gang activities appear as success in reverse. But inside the gang, selling dope, beating a rival, murder, robbery and rape increases a member’s prestige and respect within the ranks.
What most parents fail to recognize is that children and young people need and crave discipline. Gangs have a rigid authority structure. The rules are very clear; obedience is demanded; breaking rules brings swift punishment. It is ironic that gang leaders go further than most parents are willing to today. Children need and want loving authority over their lives. That authority is expressed best through discipline.
The Bible commands all parents, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it” (Prov. 22:6). Parents, realize: Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is first and foremost education. It involves establishing rules and regulations, setting boundaries and limits—such as curfews, attending school, completing homework assignments, doing household chores, getting and keeping a part-time or full-time job. Discipline requires that all infractions hold a punishment. And that punishment should match the infraction. Serious infractions deserve serious punishment.
Many parents have told me recently that they just don’t know how to discipline their children. The book of Proverbs is your best guide for discipline. Within the pages of this book are timeless words of wisdom specifically directed at children, teens and young adults. Solomon defines the purpose for this book, “To receive the instruction of wisdom, justice, and judgment, and equity; To give subtlety to the simple, to the young man knowledge and discretion” (Prov. 1:3-4). Parents should get to know and use this invaluable book!
Proper discipline is the only road to independence. Discipline involves obeying and respecting authority. Loving discipline lets a child know he is accepted and has value. With this understanding, most children will work hard to succeed.
Solving the Problem
How can we solve our nation’s gang problem? This problem did not develop overnight. There is no quick fix. If we are honest and willing to take a serious look at the problem, we must come to the conclusion that our nation’s gang problem is only part of a much bigger problem. America has lost its moral way. We have lost all sense of right and wrong. This permeates every aspect of our society, from the office of the President to the local judge. Our lack of moral focus has made us too lethargic to solve our social ills.
The Bible shows that the problem with our young will get far worse before it gets better. Prophecy reveals that these end times in which we live are to be violent times. The time will come when all human life will be threatened (Matt. 24:21-22). The Apostle Paul described our day as “perilous times” (II Tim. 3:1). Speaking of our time, Isaiah writes, “And the people shall be oppressed, every one by another, and every one by his neighbour: the child shall behave himself proudly against the ancient, and the base against the honourable” (Isa. 3:5). Children, teens and young adults are slated to contribute their share to the violence. Because of our gaping moral vacuum, it may be too late to solve our gang problem on a national scale. But it is not too late for you to do something individually. If you suspect your child is falling under gang influence, there are steps you can take to rescue your child.
Gang experts recognize that parents play the key role in curing the crisis. The first step toward prevention is to strengthen your family life. This means taking your role as a parent seriously. Be the authority in your home. Remember, your child craves your loving guidance, attention and correction. Your child will feel safe and secure when you properly use your authority.
Be sure to spend ample time talking with your child. Listen carefully for problems with school and school friends. If your child feels comfortable talking with you, he will reveal dangerous confrontations at school. If your child is being threatened at school, report it immediately to school officials. Most school officials are well-educated on gang issues.
If you suspect your child is getting involved with gang activities, don’t brush your hunches aside. Some parents, caught watching their child bleed to death, admitted that they ignored the signs of their child’s gang involvement. Beware denial. Denying your child’s gang affiliation only increases the potential for far more serious activity.
If you discover that your child has become a gang member, seek the help of a proven professional immediately. You can rescue your child from gang membership, but specific steps must be taken to break the gang connection. Breaking out of a gang can be fatal for your child if not done properly.
Bible prophecy shows that there is coming a time when our society will solve the youth gang problem—finally and forever. Thankfully, Jesus Christ will return and stop all the gang violence. He will show our wonderful young people how to live successfully. Here is that prophecy: “Thus saith the Lord of hosts; There shall yet old men and old women dwell in the streets of Jerusalem, and every man with his staff in his hand for very age. And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in the streets thereof. Thus saith the Lord of hosts; If it be marvelous in the eyes of the remnant of this people in these days, should it also be marvelous in mine eyes? saith the Lord of hosts” (Zech. 8:4-6). Peace is coming to America’s streets and the entire world. Christ’s Kingdom will be a marvelous time for all men, women, children and teens. We can all look forward to that day. Notice carefully, verse 6 shows that God does too.