Gang Involvement

Are there any problems confronting a parent more grim than drug abuse or gang violence involving their children? The reality of your family's personal involvement with either street gangs, or drugs will quickly surpass your imagination. The magnitude of the impact of these problems on your family is almost unfathomable. Along with personal and family problems, involvement with drugs or gangs will quickly result in tremendous financial cost for your family. Attorney fees, fines, referrals to counseling programs, and bills for time spent in custody can literally run into thousands of dollars, and the parents will be held financially responsible for many if not all of these bills. Studies have consistently shown that family environment plays a major role in the development of delinquent behavior. Parents whose children become involved in gang and drug problems are well-known: poverty, lack of parenting skills, a chaotic home life, negative role models, drug and alcohol abuse be family members, child abuse, and living in a distressed neighborhood. Parents must learn how to recognize and deal with these problems, and reduce their role in promoting this behavior in their children. They need to determine whether their children are involved in gang and drug activity, and get involved and work with their children if they are involved. The first reaction of a parent when confronted with these problems usually is shock and denial. Many parents do not understand what is happening to their children, and when they do, they express a feeling of helplessness. But parenting skills can improve. Parents can learn to change and to control the behavior of their children and not be controlled by their children. We need to get together and gang up on the gangs; we're stronger, we can do it, but it has to be done cooperatively.

The following section discusses some of the current gang problems facing Santa Clara County, the risk factors, the signs of involvement, and has suggestions on what to do if you feel your son or daughter is becoming involved. We have entered a new era in street gang violence in California. Gangs and gang violence have taken on a whole new meaning in the past two years. The growing number of gangs and the violence they commit is phenomenal. Gang membership in California has grown to an estimated 100,00, and the criminal activity of gangs has grown to become one of the most serious problems facing the state. Increasingly, the violence is directed towards members of the general public, many of whom are only innocent bystanders. Many streets, parks, and schools in cities throughout the state are becoming places where people are not safe. Gangs and drug dealers are holding an increasing number of neighborhoods hostage. The people in these neighborhoods become afraid to leave their home, or let their children play in nearby parks which have been taken over by dealers. Innocent people who find themselves in the wrong place are increasingly being confronted and intimidated. It can terrorize, and taxes go up to pay for more police and community services. Local businesses begin to suffer from property damage, vandalism, and graffiti. Thus, loosing customers because neighborhood residents are hesitant to leave their homes. Decreasing revenue and rising insurance costs can soon cause them to close their doors. Today's gangs are violent and vicious criminals. They are well organized, are armed with sophisticated weapons, and are involved in drug trafficking, territorial wars, witness intimidation, extortion, rape, and even murder. The State Department of Education must develop and mandate anti-gang, anti-drug curriculum for grades K through 12. We must cut off the source of gang recruitment, our children. They travel extensively, spreading their violence and crime to new neighborhoods and communities. The current trend in gang membership and crime shows and increasing rate of growth, with narcotics used and sales fueling the violence, and increasingly being used as major factors in gang recruitment. In fact, gangs and drugs are so closely intertwined that both must be addressed if we are to have any success in dealing with either one. Gang and drug activity is also affecting our schools, and the problem is seen by the public as a major social problem. Gang members play an increasing role in the violence, vandalism, and extortion on school campuses, including assaultive incidents, beatings and stabbings of other gang members, students, and even teachers. Acts of violence and intimidation are increasing at schools in this county, much as a result of outside intruders, usually gang members, coming on campus. We know that the youth that seem to be the most at risk for gang recruitment frequently find school a very difficult place. Many have histories of poor academic performance, poor attendance, learning disabilities, and are hostile towards other students and the staff. It is imperative for us to identify those youth most at risk and offer alternative programs to draw them away from involvement with gangs and future drug problems. It is far easier to reach a child at this stage than when they begin to move into their teen years. Gang involvement takes a terrible toll on the family of a member. The parents live in fear for the safety of their son or daughter, and for the safety of the other members of their family. Even if short lived, gang involvement can shape their child's and family's future forever. Gang members who are not injured or killed are frequently incarcerated, and these will discard their education. As they grow into adulthood, gang members almost always develop drug and alcohol problems. That, together with their arrest records will severely limit their employment skills and opportunities. Experts agree that success at school, or developing meaningful employment skills is critical in reducing gang and drug problems. When young people become involved and committed to the community, they realize they have potential. There is a dramatic drop in gang and drug involvement. What this tells us is that there is a need for early intervention, for stronger community and parental involvement, and for help from our educators to develop programs to keep our children away from early involvement with gangs at the school level. A gangs most precious asset is its membership, and strong parental involvement is the most powerful tool in preventing recruitment of young people into gang activity. We need to develop programs which will choke off a gang's supply of new recruits. Families, community groups, schools, businesses, and religious organizations must work together. Government can not do this job alone.

The recent upsurge in gang activity is due in part to the "fad" of claiming gang membership, which was glamorized in the movie "COLORS", and by the tremendous exposure in the media during the past year. But street gangs are not just a fad. There are more dangerous reasons behind the increase in gang activity including the emergence of "crack" cocaine, and the realization by gangs that they can move beyond their local neighborhood and wield tremendous influence. The emergence of "crack" in Santa Clara County has occurred in direct relationship to the increased participation in drug trafficking by local as well as out-of-country street gang members from Oakland, East Palo Alto, and Los Angeles. The gangs are growing larger, recruitment of new members is growing easier, and the gangs are springing up in new areas in our communities. Street gang activity and violence now reaches all socioeconomic and ethnic groups. And no community or neighborhood is immune. In addition to the existing problems with PCP and heroin, which have plagued this community for years, there has been a dramatic increase in the use of "crack" cocaine as the new drug of choice. Selling or using "crack" is so tempting, and enticing, the growing numbers of our youth are being drawn into it. The lure of drugs has an immediate impact on the young people who see the money being made, and see the growing number of people appearing to benefit from selling drugs with very little penalty. Selling drugs, particularly "crack", is so profitable and easy that the temptations are becoming irresistible. Unfortunately, the profit motive is alive and well in the world of the drug seller. Gang and drug related crime is a social problem that cannot be controlled by law enforcement alone. The only reasonable approach to dealing with these problems is to look beyond the Justice system for solutions. These are community problems that can only be solved in the long term through community efforts. Our children must experience acceptable, responsible, and gratifying roles in our families, and see the larger importance of family, friends, schools, and the community. Young people who do not feel a sense of achievement or self-worth lack connection to the community, and will be easy prey to gangs and drugs. When young people do not feel that they have a stake in the community, serious problems follow.

Gangs and drug dealers thrive on fear and intimidation. Their power and influence grows when citizens do not know how to respond or are afraid to get involved. This can be countered when a neighborhood becomes united to cooperate in stopping crime. Gang and drug activity can not flourish when encountered by citizen action groups like tenant associations or Neighborhood Watch. Gang members and dealers gather to drink, use drugs, and deface property. If these areas are kept well lit and cleaned up, and if graffiti is quickly removed, it will discourage loitering and much more serious problems. Perhaps the single most important contribution that could be made at the community level is regular meetings on the creation of educational workshops for the people who live in high risk neighborhoods. These gatherings should include the participation of law enforcement, the schools, community groups, local government, and grass roots organizations from the neighborhood. They should be directed towards subjects of interest to the community, but should focus on gang and drug problems, and developing neighborhood strategies for dealing with these problems.

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