No one knows exactly how many children and youth nationwide are gang members or join a gang in an average day, but the numbers are astonishing and increasing. What is it about gangs that is so appealing to children? Gangs offer identity which a child may not have felt he or she had before. Gangs also offer belonging, protection, money, sex, and status. The majority of the children who become involved in such groups as gangs usually don't have a sense family or belonging to anyone, are lonely, and are looking for friends. Some may think that gangs are actually a good thing in that they offer so many positive things to a child's life. That is where some go wrong, and make the biggest mistake of their lives.
Gangs are responsible for ten to twenty percent of the criminal activity in the United States, which estimates to an approximate thirty to sixty billion dollars of taxpayers' money a year. Gangs are often associated with the use of drugs, including heroine and marijuana. Gangs also are connected to the illegal use of many weapons and as a result, many bloody murders. So, it is obvious that even though gangs may offer a sense of security to many children, the negative aspects definitely outweigh the positive aspects. The stereotypical child pulled into a gang might fit this picture: lives in the projects, either African-American or Hispanic-American, no father or any type of positive male role model, and has a large family who is on welfare. Although a few may fit some of these characteristics, if not all, the gangster world is changing day by day. Gangs are no longer limited to African and Hispanic minorities only, but include Asians and Caucasians as well. Gangs have slowly progressed from inner city to suburbia, they have overtaken high schools, and in some cases, even middle and elementary schools.
Once a child is pulled into a gang, it seems almost as if he has signed his life away. Some consider joining a gang similar to a death sentence. Gangs can affect a child's life in numerous aspects. Once a child has joined a gang, they might stop going to school, start doing or dealing drugs, fighting others whenever they felt necessary. Children may feel withdrawn from others, and will only hang out with others members of their gang. Children who may have been looking for a sense of security which they felt they lacked before, probably found it temporarily, only to learn that they would soon be fighting for their life every day for as long as they were a member.
Although many ideas to rid of gangs have been thrown about in the government system, nothing real concrete has ever been stated. Some solutions are to make membership in a gang illegal, this would inhibit some children to join a gang just because they would be breaking the law. Another solution, make any violent crime(above simple assault) committed by a gang member punishable by execution. This would frighten a lot of gang members from committing any crimes because they no longer would just be sent to juvenile court for a couple of days or weeks, they might encounter the death penalty. Also there are organizations such as TAG (Teens Against Gangs), MAG (Mothers Against Gangs), and the Omega Boys Club which have the sole purpose to save the lives of youth, lost to gangs, drugs and crime. The Omega Boys Club not only showed troubled children who had been pulled into gangs that there were alternatives to crime, but financed their college education and invested in their futures. The Omega Boys Club is made up of three components: the youth which were confronted with violence, crime, and drugs; the dedicated, caring staff who function as parents, teachers, and mentors; and finally the funders, volunteers, and friends who support the values of the Omega Boys Club and the process of change.
Thus there are solutions to this growing problem. If action were taken immediately and more seriously, then gangs might not be as prominent as they are today. In large, dominant cities of the United States such as Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago gangs are especially prevalent and spread to areas in all directions. If there were more programs in schools, where kids hadn't really been exposed to gangs yet, to de-glamorize the gang lifestyle and provide realistic alternatives and support, then this also would help children to stay away from gangs. For example, there was an anti-gang curricula which began in 1982 at the Paramount California Schools. Before the showing of the program, about fifty percent of students were undecided about joining; after the curriculum, ninety to ninety-eight percent indicated unwillingness to have anything to do with a gang. Children today shouldn't have to live every day wondering if they will make it to the next day. Children today shouldn't have to worry that while sitting in their living room watching T.V., a stray bullet could pierce through the window and hit them. Children today shouldn't have to worry that by crossing the street, wearing the wrong color, or even just playing outside could get them killed. Children living in a gang populated area usually grow up three times as fast as the average child. A child in a gang populated area has witnessed things that even some police officers in major cities haven't, namely death.
Children begin to lose hope if all they see is people fighting other people. Children begin to think that there is nothing else out there, no opportunity or adventure, only death and mourning. If gangs and the violence that comes with it were abolished in the United States then a lot more children would live to see a very bright future.
Omega Boys Club. http://www.street-soldiers.org/omega/omega1.html
Alanzo, Felipe and Zavala, Eric. http://www.cwrl.utexas.edu/%7Edliss/student_projects/final_project/felipe2/index.htm
Cantrell, Mary Lynn.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.