Saturday, October 18, 2008

Creating Gang Hysteria

If readers accept the Oakland Press article on 9-10-08, ‘FBI Targeting Pontiac Gangs’, then they probably believe Pontiac is being overrun by gang activity. What was interesting about this article it had no objective gang data to back its claim.

This article was more about gang funding for law enforcement instead of a real gang problem; as Stanley ‘Tookie Williams state executed co-founder of the CRIPS gang stated: “When gang warfare is fed and fueled by law enforcement, funds are generated for the so-called anti-gang units. Without gangs, these units would no longer exist.”

There has been an upsurge in homicides in Pontiac, 18 homicides thus far in 2008, two more than the total of 16 in 2007. Of the homicides this year, how many of these murders have been specifically gang related? From my recollection only one of these murders was so-called gang related, allegedly committed by members of the ‘Goon Squad’.

Obviously these homicides in Pontiac are not gang related, but they are specifically related to Black-on-Black male violence. Over ninety percent of the homicide victims this year have been Black men. To make a claim beyond opinions and self-serving agendas that there is a gang problem, the assertion must be supported by gang defining criteria and evidence of substantial gang activity.

In analyzing a gang problem one must know about gangs in general and the history of local gangs in particular, without this knowledge one’s understanding is imaginable, superficial, and prejudice. Often young Black males are stereotyped as gang members simply because of the clothes they wear.

From my perspective, Black neighborhoods in Pontiac have never had what you can define as a real gang problem in the past, nor do they presently have one. Historically in Pontiac’s Black neighborhoods you’ve had neighborhood antagonistic rivalries based on territorial associations such as Southside, Eastside, Lakeside, Westside, Northside, etc.

These territorial rivalries based on where one lived, self-hatred, and misplaced aggression often erupted in violent confrontations in neighborhoods, at school, sporting events, parties, and skating rinks. Over the years these rivalries have resulted in homicides. Pontiac’s Black neighborhoods have never had large-scale and organized gangs like the Bloods and Crips (Los Angeles based) or the Vice Lords and Gangster Disciples (Chicago based).

Fratricidal territorial rivalries between young Black males still continue today in Pontiac’s Black neighborhoods. There are also a growing number of smaller click rivalries. Young Black male teens here are also forming ‘bandit scavenger clicks’ that impulsively rob and beat people.

What I see in Pontiac’s Black neighborhoods is not a growing gang problem but an increasing click forming phenomena. Marginalized young Black male teens are coming together in small groups (clicks) motivated by unmet needs. Many of them are unloved, unprotected, neglected, slighted, poor, angry, depressed, fatherless, and fatalistic.

Gang research shows that youth gangs today are smaller, less structured, and homegrown. No, Pontiac does not have a gang problem but it does have a homegrown risk factors problem. Risk factors are the psycho-socioeconomic indicators that make youth vulnerable to gang involvement.

The City of Pontiac is full of risk factors like high unemployment and poverty, few job opportunities, and few recreational outlets. You would think that if the leadership in Pontiac was going to contact the federal government it would be for monetary assistance to address its risk factors instead of contacting the FBI.

A progressive gang prevention and intervention approach is a full communitywide collaboration that addresses identified risk factors: individual characteristics, family conditions, school performance, peer group influences, and community context. A progressive risk-based approach begins with accurate assessment of what is meant by a gang and gang-related offenses.

Next a community resources inventory is done to identify services in the community that are being provided or could be provided to at-risk youth, gang members, and their families.

Once progressive Pontiac residents decide to organize – ‘gang up’ to reduce oppressive risk factors they will see a decrease in real and imagined youth gangs.

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