Saturday, April 29, 2006

Respect My Gangsta

"The devil's most devilish when respectable."

-Elizabeth Barrett Browning

One of the hallmarks of gang ideology is the expression of wanting respect. In the gang culture wanting respect usually means demanding respect.

In speaking with gang kids over the years I’ve learned that their idea of respect is different than most people’s idea of respect.

For gang members, “respect” often is interchangeable with “fear.”

Gang members view fear as the ultimate and primary form of respect. But fear is not respect. Fear has nothing to do with respect. Fear is the opposite of respect.

When someone is afraid of you they may pretend to respect you. But inside they hate you. They do not think of you as powerful but only dangerous. Because you demand respect from someone using the threat of violence you are not getting the respect you think you deserve.

Any 8 year old can pull the trigger on a gun. This doesn’t mean that you respect him. What it means is that if he confronts you with a gun you do what is necessary to stay alive. Threatening with violence being tough, hard, or bad doesn’t make you respectable. It makes you in fact a coward.

There are two kinds of respect. There is a basic respect towards other human beings that we all are supposed to extend. Meaning we don’t generally threaten people. We generally respect other people’s property, personal space, and hopefully their freedom of speech. We respect others by offering them the same courtesy we hope everyone will extend to us. In other words, “doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.”

The other kind of respect is the kind that is earned. When someone does something that is above and beyond to help society. When someone works hard to do the right thing. When someone proves themselves to be a good leader, often patient, kind, fair, and honorable we “respect” them. When someone overcomes a terrible situation to rise above we respect them.

Gang members often make the mistake of believing that other people respect them. But rarely is this the case. Most of the time people are afraid of them. Respect doesn’t come from the end of a gun…only terror.

When I deal with gang members I extend a sense of respect to them. To their beliefs and to their history of hurt. But this respect is not grounded in fear. It is grounded in understanding the pain.

Here’s the thing. People who try and make others afraid of them are in fact always the ones who are afraid.

They are afraid of being rejected. They are afraid of being hurt themselves. Like a cat in the corner who is being threatened by a dog they bristle their hair up to look bigger, hiss and howl to sound scary, and flash their teeth to appear as something dangerous. In other words the threat they pose comes from fear. Most of it is for show.

The same is true of bullies. The same is often true of gang members who extend their chest, talk tough, and threaten. This is not to say that they aren’t dangerous. In fact the person who is afraid is often the most dangerous. But it does tell a secret about them. One that they hope never gets out.

That they themselves are often afraid. So afraid that they are willing to fight and if need be die to keep that secret.

Real bravery comes not from following a crowd to fit in. It does not come from wearing the same colors that everyone else does in order to look “bad.” Real bravery comes from one who is able to rise above. Rise above hate, rise above the feeling that no one cares, rise above the notion that violence equals manhood.

A person who rises above these things is the person that is most worthy of real respect.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Dying to Belong

“Needy people are dangerous.”
-J. Sensing

When I was in high school I remember a little experiment I carried out. Now I was not a drinker and didn’t really party. I had some pretty strict grandparents. I did go out and have fun, but without the drinking that seemed so popular in our school.

I wondered often what the appeal of it all was. After all, beer really didn’t taste good and hangovers leave you nauseous and broke. One day I asked one of the “partiers” if they really enjoyed drinking.

Turns out this person did not. I began to wonder how many others felt as she did. So I asked.

One after the other they said the same thing. And more importantly they told me they went out drinking because their friends were doing it. Here’s the catch. None of the kids I asked really wanted to drink. They just did it because they thought everyone else wanted to. They did it because they didn’t want to be considered a geek…like me.

If they had ever sat down with one another and been honest imagine the revelation they would have had. But they felt they needed approval more than anything else. Being needy was dangerous.

A few years after high school, while working on the rescue squad, I pulled one of them out of a car. Dead. And still clutching a whiskey bottle in his cold hand. His buddy in the back of the car died too.

There is nothing more terrible than the smell of alcohol and blood mixed together.

I counsel with gang kids all the time. I’ve done it for years. And you know what?

Time and time and time again I hear the same thing. If they’ve been in the gang for very long they ALL say the same thing.

They don’t want to do it anymore.

But they don’t speak up because they think their friends do want to gangbang. Imagine if they ever sat down and discussed this. But they won’t and you know why?

Because in gangs being considered a geek or whatever isn’t the worst thing. FEAR is. Fear of being punished. Fear of being killed. Sadly sometimes the fear of being an outsider is more powerful than the fear of dying on the streets over colors. These kids “need” to be accepted so bad they are dying for it.

Some of my gang kids will read this. Other gang kids will read this that I do not know. And secretly most of them will agree. They don’t want this lifestyle They don’t want to die in the streets. They don’t want their family killed by stray bullets. They don’t want their kids to someday do what they do.

But most of them will never say it out loud.

If the gang has to control members by fear. Then what does that say about the gang? If you need acceptance so bad that you would die for it, what does that say about the life you lead?

Terrorists control their members with fear. So do cults. So do a lot of negative, destructive, and deadly groups.

Fear of being looked at as a punk. Fear of being punished severely for wanting out. Fear of being killed by rival gangs and by their own gang.

If by being in the gang you live your life in fear…then you are not living. If you “need” to belong so bad that you end up in a wheel chair, in jail, or dead you are living dangerously. The gang leaders need you too. They need you to make them rich. And if and when you die or end up in jail, they will find someone else to take your place. And in that respect, they don’t really “need” YOU at all. Just someone to use.

If you need so much that you sacrifice everything…You are dying…and the dead kids piling up in the morgue prove it.

Sunday, April 23, 2006

Another Trail of Tears

When Europeans came to the “New World” they brought with them more than just culture. They brought with them things like smallpox, more efficient killing weapons, life numbing whiskey, and in the end…a genocide. The settlement of the Americas by other cultures eventually all but wiped out the descendents of hundreds of generations of indigenous people. The Apache, Cherokee, Sioux, Pequot, Comanche, and so on.

Thousands and thousands of people who once lived and protected the land were driven out, hunted down, and crammed together on smaller and smaller bits of remote land. The settlers brought more than just their culture to the American Indian, they brought with them death and destruction in all its many forms.

Now it happens again. Now the players are different but the victims are the same. This time the victims are not being driven off their lands but killing themselves off with a gang culture.

Yes the cultural genocidal attitude of Gangsterism has a firm foothold in practically every Indian reservation in the United States. The same devices that allow gangs to grow and destroy are operating in this once “separate” culture. Denial, apathy, ignorance, and people unwilling to make a change in their own homes.

Indian youth are picking up flags, picking up guns, selling drugs, and killing each other in the name of a gang. It wasn’t enough that the suffering of a clash of cultures has spanned nearly 600 years. Now modern society with a supergang mentality evolving from the turmoil of the 1960s is making war on another group of people who have bled too much already.

Finally, the names of Native American gangs, whether they are urban or reservation-based, may suggest affiliation with a larger, national gang structure, such as Native Gangster Disciples, or Indian Crips, while other names, such as A-Town, Nomadz or Wild Boyz are unique to a community or other geographical location.
- Captain Christopher Grant
Rapid City (SD) Police Department

Yes kids on Indian Reservations are killing one another. And for what? The same endless war over territory that no one will own. The color of a rag. The sake of “respect.” The numbers are just as staggering in this isolated culture as the rest of the country…

Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota estimates the gang membership in 2003 to be approximately 3,500 out of 15,000 residents.
-Officer John Mousseau.

This time there is no long march to remote reservations. Only the march of funeral processions. This time there is no massacre of the Pequot at Mystic River. Only the massacres of children by other children in South Dakota. This time there is no Trail of Tears through the Tennessee mountains. Only a trail of tears from neighborhood to neighborhood across the scattered remnants of the new wild west. A trail of tears that is only the beginning of a new atrocity.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Where Gangs Are

"The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing."-Albert Einstein

Wherever there are broken families, disenfranchised youth, and an adult to organize and manipulate. Wherever there are churches who remain firmly encased behind their stain glassed windows.

Wherever a parent does not provide structure and discipline balanced carefully with love. Wherever there are fathers who are absent. Wherever there are authorities who are more interested in keeping their jobs than revealing the truth. Wherever there are children unsupervised for hours at a time.

Wherever there are politicians more interested in getting votes than addressing the issues. Wherever there are media outlets who ignore violence in “that part of town.” Wherever there are kids who have no one to turn to during times of crisis.

Wherever there is child abuse, neglect, and domestic violence. Wherever there are adults who are more interested in buying thousands of dollars worth of rims than keeping kids off of drugs. Wherever there are parents who would rather be “friends” than parents. Wherever there are role models who claim that they are not.

Wherever there are communities that look the other way. Wherever there are communities that invest more in “Welcome to our town” signs than school programs. Wherever there are houses of worship that are more interested in buying thousands of dollars worth of decorations than in building women’s shelters.

Wherever there is apathy. Wherever there is unchecked rage. Wherever there is ignorance. Wherever there is someone willing to look the other way.

That is where gangs can form. That is where gangs can grow. And that is where kids die and violence becomes a way of life.

Big cities. Small towns. Across both sides of the tracks. Lower class, middle class, and upper class. Ghettos, suburbs, gated communities.

In your backyard. That is where gangs are.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Something to Hold Onto

“My one true love is my nine.”
-“Tom” 14 year old gang member.

This kid tried to convince me that he was so hardcore all of the time. He would make comments like that around me and especially around his peers. He tried so hard to be “hard” that it was almost funny.

But really it was sad.

This same gang member who proclaimed that he could only trust his instincts and the weapon in his hand, would sleep at night with his little stuffed animal. I know this because he was in the juvenile facility where I counseled with gang members and other juveniles.

After I got to know “Tom” I learned that like so many others his upbringing was a harsh one. Shootings in the small town where he lived went unreported on the local news. I guess that “part of town” wasn’t considered newsworthy enough.

His relationship with his mother was more like that of a brother / sister relationship. And that was on a good day.

His father or course…nonexistent. He grew up with no one and nothing to hold onto.

He was angry and rightfully so. He found what he could not find at home, in a gang. He found a sense of family. But like trying to extinguish a fire with a squirt gun the gang just didn’t satisfy.

Like so many others, Tom, put on a front. He wore a mask. A mask of toughness that was only betrayed by the little stuffed animal in his bed.

I lost count of how many “hardcore” gang members I worked with who slept with these same kinds of dolls.

He was a child trying to act like a man. Or rather what he thought a man should be. He was afraid and trying to act fearless. Dying inside but trying to act like he didn’t care.

I will never know exactly what that little stuffed animal represented to Tom. Maybe it reminded him of a time when he was a little boy and things weren’t so difficult. Maybe it reminded him of how he had always wanted someone to hold him at night and make him feel secure.

I cannot be sure what the symbolism was with that doll. But I know that at least at night it gave him what even the gang could not. It gave him what his parents would not. It gave him what he would not let anyone else get close enough to offer. A sense of peace. A sense of hope. Something to hold onto besides anger, violence, and fear. If only that little doll could have held him back.

Tom never let anyone get too close. Probably because it was easier to pretend to be tough than it was to take the chance of allowing someone to hurt him again. Better to act like a monster than allow someone the chance to abandon him again. Better to hide behind the mask of Gangsterism than to reveal to anyone that he felt alone and vulnerable. Just like any kid clinging to a stuffed animal at night.

The gang gave him something to hold onto. When no one else would reach out to him. If we are not there to hold onto our kids…

Someone else will be.

Monday, April 10, 2006

killed over a bandanna

"...wearin flags, cuz the colors match they clothes They get caught in the wrong hood and get filled up with holes."
from the song:
Patiently Waiting-50 Cent / Eminem

Article excerpts from:

White Plains Street
life ends violently for a troubled young man


THE JOURNAL NEWS April 2, 2006

Read the whole article at:

Jermaine Pelletier's love for gangster rap and its trappings — baggy pants, do-rags and bandannas — made him something of an outsider at Cortlandt's Walter Panas High School.

...When his parents divorced, he blamed himself.

...On his 20th birthday, that passion for the "original gangster" look may have cost him his life.

Pelletier was killed at a busy White Plains intersection Monday night — stabbed in the neck during a street fight that authorities say started over his refusal to take off his bandanna.

"...He would do anything, just to be accepted."

"He wasn't a gangster, but he liked wearing gang stuff," Casado said. "Kids made fun of him, and you could tell that it bothered him and made him mad, but he would hold it in. Jermaine always just wanted to fit in, but kids made fun of him, so he kept to himself."

Casado, who was in Pelletier's special education class, said their friendship grew because "we were isolated from the rest of the school."

He was a wannabe. He'd wear a purple bandanna, a yellow bandanna. But he wasn't a gang member. The fantasy of it was appealing to him."

...killed over a bandanna.

"Clearly, this incident demonstrates that whether someone is actively a gang member or not, wearing the wrong clothes or mimicking gang behavior, the results can be tragic," Straub said.

Killed over a bandanna.

Tragedy beyond understanding. This article tells of a young man, a special education student, that liked to dress in bandannas and other clothes that could be misconstrued as gang related.

No one can blame the poor kid for his style of dress. He was a special ed. student with a history of pain. He probably didn’t even realize the danger he was in.

But the gang that killed him didn’t care.

They didn’t care to actually get to know him. If they had they might have discovered he was just a kid with a love for hip hop. A kid that grew up in a way that most of us could never understand. A way that no one should have to.

If this so called “brotherhood” of gangsters had bothered to look beyond “color” they might have seen someone a lot like them. Except that this kid, by all accounts, never had blood on his hands. Someone who came from a broken home. Someone who just wanted to be accepted. Someone who was trying to escape a life of pain.

Like robots programmed to hate colors this brotherhood of “love” callously murdered some kid who just didn’t understand the danger he was in.

We should have a right to dress anyway we want to. But we don’t. The gangs have taken that freedom away from not only their own members but also from anyone who should accidentally stray into their so called territory. Territory none of them own. Territory they have been brainwashed into thinking is theirs and worth killing over. Useless land.

Most would have labeled this kid as a wannabe. If his friend’s testimony is accurate that is the only crime he was guilty of. Dressing like a gangster and wandering into real gangster “territory.”

So the next time you hear some “authority” figure yammer on about there is no danger because “they’re just wannabes” or “he’s just a wannabe gangster”…don’t make the mistake of believing the implied lie.

The lie that being a wannabe isn’t dangerous.

Because real gang members don’t make the same distinction that some of the authorities do. But then again they aren’t worried about votes or keeping their jobs.

Unlike some of the authorities, real gangsters don’t notice the difference any more than the bullets they fire do.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

For Life

I worked with this gang kid in a juvenile facility many years ago. He was soft spoken and always had a joke to tell. I remember one year shortly after Christmas he came to me and asked for a Band-aid. I asked him if he had hurt himself and he said no. He just needed it for his coat.

“For your coat?” I asked. He proceeded to tell me that his grandmother bought him a Chicago Bulls jacket for Christmas. A very expensive one at that. But he wouldn’t go into detail as to why he needed a bandage for the coat. Once I knew he had a Bulls jacket I knew.

He was a member of a gang that was not permitted to wear Bulls’ clothing. The Bulls’ jacket represented a rival gang and placing a Band-aid on it would show disrespect for the rival gang. Having this little bandage would allow him to wear the coat without “violating” his gang.

He was a slave and didn’t even know it.

They dictated what colors he could wear, what sports team clothing he could wear, what foods he could eat, and just about every other aspect of his life.

For life.

When he joined the gang they never told him all of the little rules that would dominate his life forever. Even if that “forever” only lasted until someone shot him to death over wearing the wrong clothes.

He was a slave to a system of beliefs that wouldn’t even allow him to honor his grandmother’s gift to him.

A few years later I found out that this “funny kid” raped a day care worker in front of her kids.

Some life. Now the only clothes he wears are the striped outfits provided by the state penitentiary.

I hear it all the time from kids. Over and over again.

Regrets and sorrow that they ever gave their lives to the gang. So many of these young people who have been in for so long wish they had never joined. I’ve never met one yet who has been in a long time and is glad he joined this life of slavery.

But I’ve seen plenty of them surrender their lives to the Crips, Bloods, Surenos, Gangster Disciples, Vice Lords, and so on. Only later on to surrender their lives to prison, to a wheelchair, to a grave.

Down for life takes on a whole new meaning when you think about what life in the gang means.

Always looking over your back. Having other people tell you what you can and cannot wear, eat, or say. Dodging bullets, dodging cops, dodging life in general.

For life is a commitment. A commitment that will either be imposed on you by the gang or by the judge. Either way, for life, really means the end of life.

Sometimes in a very permanent way.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

Poetic Injustice

Pictured: Mr. Doyle, "Wannabe" Homeland Security Official

Homeland Cyber-Sex Case Causes Concern

April 7, 2006

(CBS/AP) Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff said Thursday he did not believe a department official's alleged sexual misconduct resulted in a breach of national security, calling the case an individual's "misstep."

Mr. Chertoff, a 55 year old man responsible for national security safety trying to have sex with a 14 year old girl is not a “misstep” .

A misstep is when you drop your toothbrush in the toilet.

A misstep is when you trip over your own two feet.

A misstep is when you accidentally call your current girlfriend your old girlfriend’s name.

A misstep is when you accidentally leave your wallet at home.

A grown man trying to have sex with an obviously underage girl is not only a crime it is a deviant behavior that is not treatable. It isn’t even in the same ballpark as a “misstep.” Yeah I said pedophilia is not treatable. It can be contained at best but it cannot be “cured”. By contained I mean usually prison forever.

This pseudo-political, knee jerk, butt saving response is typical. Regardless of if you are talking about DHS or the local PD referencing gangs as “wannabe”.

Remember the article mentioning New Orleans reviving gang violence (not that it ever went away as the gangs were still in business when the local government was not), as a bunch of wannabe gang members? The term "wannabe gangster" is an oxymoron.

Groups of individuals shooting at each other, wearing similar colors, under the same “group name”, and killing people are about as “wannabe gangsters” as DHS’s Doyle soliciting sex with a minor is a "misstep."

I’m curious as to how a gang is defined in New Orleans now. Obviously using a group name, committing crimes under that banner, and shooting people under the same group context isn’t considered gang activity.

And these are the people who have yet to explain why gangs controlled the city for a week last year.

I'm also curious as to how Mr. Chertoff would describe a real security threat or a real "serious problem" with our background checks.

Oddly enough this story continues to seethe with coincidence. DHS still has thousands of trailers setting and rusting while people are scattered all over from New Orleans. And New Orleans officials want to encourage us that "there's nothing to see here" with gangs that never left. Carefully crafted words, poetically designed to make us feel comfortable, are not only dangerous they are setting us up for failure.

I’d call that poetic injustice.

The Wannabe Lie

"In a 1995 Tennessee Gang Investigator’s conference the Federal Bureau of Investigation stated that wanna be, false flaggers, or fake gang youth should be considered just as dangerous as real gang members."

Fri 7 Apr 2006

ew Orleans
fearing return to crime-ridden past

By Jeffrey Jones

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - Recent killings on the streets of New Orleans have some in the hurricane-ravaged city fearing one revival they had hoped to avoid -- its distinction as one of America's most crime-ridden cities.

Months after floodwaters that submerged 80 percent of New Orleans subsided, residents enjoyed an unfamiliar respite from the gang- and drug-related crime that gripped the city for years.

Now, as evacuees trickle back from Houston, Atlanta and elsewhere to rebuild in the birthplace of jazz, so are some violent criminals, police and a community activist said.

"Crime today is not as bad as it was before August 29, which is before (Hurricane) Katrina. But I think it's also safe to say that crime has been escalating in this city, particularly since it has begun to repopulate," said Raphael Goyeneche, president of the Metropolitan Crime Commission, a police watchdog group.

"That's what I think the public is concerned about, they're seeing some upticks, some escalation since January, and particularly since Mardi Gras, and they're concerned we may be returning to pre-Katrina."

During Mardi Gras in February, 22-year-old Jermaine Wise was shot and killed. In March, police arrested Ivory "B-Stupid" Harris, 20, in connection with the killing.

On March 19, musician Michael Frey, 28, was walking home in the Faubourg Marigny area near the French Quarter when a robber killed him with a shotgun blast to the chest.

The same day, a gunman opened fire on one of the famous music processions that are part of New Orleans funerals and killed Christopher Smith, 19, and injured another man.


Despite the brazen acts, police contend crime is down by a wide margin, even accounting for the evacuation. The current population, about 200,000, is less than half the pre-storm number.

"Everybody talks about crime, but the reality is we've got less crime now that we've had in decades. Overall, our crime figures seem to be down around 70 percent," New Orleans Police Department spokesman Juan Quentin said.

There have been 18 homicides this year, down from 68 by April 2005, he said. Part of it is because the department's 1,400 officers have the resources to follow cases and make arrests under Chief Warren Riley, Quentin said.

Quentin said some troublemakers are among those returning to the city, but he characterised them as "gang wannabes." He also dismissed reports that gangs were setting up shop in abandoned homes around town.

Jeweller Janet Bruno-Small said prior to the hurricane, "there was just something in the environment that was very dangerous and very volatile. However, since the storm, I've felt pretty safe. Although recently people have been warning me to be more cautious."

Before Katrina struck, the majority of the crime in New Orleans was linked to drug trafficking and an overtaxed court system that gave criminals light sentences, Goyeneche said.

One prescription for keeping crime down after the country's worst natural disaster is demanding professionalism from a police force that had a reputation for corruption and poor relations with the public, he said.

The police department is struggling to rebuild credibility after dozens of its officers abandoned duties or looted stores in the chaos after the storm.

(c) Reuters 2006. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution of Reuters content, including by caching, framing or similar means, is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Reuters. Reuters and the Reuters sphere logo are registered trademarks and trademarks of the Reuters group of companies around the world.

This article:

Last updated: 07-Apr-06 18:15 BST

In the article above gang activity in the still wounded city of New Orleans is, at least in part, being described as "wannabe" gang activity. But these "wannabes" look like they are doing a good job of acting like REAL gang members.

So the same city that was controlled by gangs right after the storm is now only dealing with "wannabes". "Crime isn't as bad" as it was before the flood they say. But there are less people to do the shooting and to get shot. They say they have less crime than they've had in decades...REALLY???? THEY HAVE LESS PEOPLE THAN THEY'VE HAD IN DECADES!!!! You cannot write comedy this good.

I have decided to put an end to this nonsense rather than go on railing against people trying to cover their political butts.

The following is from one of the trainings I do on gangs. Since the authorities and or media are so quick to "calm fears" with slinging the term "wannabe" around I want to be sure that others have the opportunity to make their own decisions based on fact, not political slant.

Real gang members will even tell you that the most dangerous juvenile is one who is “false flagging”

Why is this?

A juvenile who wants to be in a gang will often go to extremes to prove that he is “down”.

As a result he may be more prone to violence.

He may be much more vocal about gang activity.

He may draw attention to himself by committing acts he believes to be gang related.

He is more likely to be recruited into a real gang

Real gang members
generally do not target “civilians” they do not perceive to be a threat. (Or an easy mark) However…

Juveniles who are “false flagging” are considered very offensive. Gang members will “test” others who claim a “set” with a series of questions.

If the “false flagger” cannot answer correctly…

He can be severely beaten or killed.

False flagging is considered a “violation”

Gang members consider false flagging as the ultimate sign of disrespect.