Gang Awareness for Parents / Educators / Law Enforcement
Written by: Steven L. Sachs, Adult Probation Officer,
Nineteenth Judicial Circuit, Lake County, Illinois
Questions and Answers About GANGS
Answers to questions most frequently asked by parents about gangs...
Q: I think my son or daughter is in a gang. How can I be sure?
A: Ask them. Your son or daughter may come right out and admit to being in a gang. If not, look for a number of identifiers that you can use to determine possible gang involvement. A few identifiers include:
• Gang slang being used in everyday conversation
• Excessive amounts of clothes in two color combinations, such as blue and black, gold and black
• Wearing gold or silver pendants and rings with the shapes of dollar signs, automatic guns, crowns, and so forth
• Too much secrecy, or your child refusing to tell you where they are going or with whom
• You son or daughter not wanting you to meet their "new friends"
• Your son or daughter having large amounts of unexplained cash
• Gang graffiti written on books, clothing, and even inside the brim of a baseball cap
• A sudden drop in school performance
Q: My Child admits to being in a gang. What do I do now?
A: Tell them that under no certain terms will you tolerate any gang language, gang clothing, gang friends, and so forth, in your home. Adopt a zero tolerance approach. Stand firm. Tell them you love them but that you do not approve. Voice the dangers of what the gang life can bring; getting hurt or killed, or arrested and sent to prison. Ask them if they want to leave the gang. KEEP ASKING. Leave the lines of communication open. Be supportive, but again, stand firm.
Q: Are gangs just made up of Blacks and Hispanics from the inner city?
A: Gangs cut across all ethnic and racial lines. It's true that the majority of gangs are made up of these two groups; however, there is a growing number of white adolescents who are either joining minority gangs or forming their own. These white adolescent gangs copy many of the same characteristics as minority gangs, such as clothing styles, hand signs, colors, symbols, and graffiti. Unfortunately, they have also adopted the same types of crimes: selling drugs, extortion, and drive-by shootings, to name a few. Larger city gangs migrate to smaller suburban towns to spread their drug trade and look for prospective members. Many people think that the TRENCH COAT MAFIA was a group of social outcasts---when in reality---they were a gang.
LAW ENFORCEMENT DEFINITION OF A GANG:
(see if this fits the Trench Coat Mafia)
A street gang is a structured, cohesive group of individuals, usually between the ages of eleven and twenty-five, who generally operate under some form of leadership while claiming a territory or turf. (A high school) Gang members wear distinctive clothing, (black trench coats) use special street names and symbols, (spoke German and wore swastikas) and commit organized and spontaneous criminal acts within the community.
Q: Are there any girl gangs?
A: Yes, Experts say of the 600,000 to 950,000 gang members in the United States, female gangs make up between 10 and 15 percent. Although many female gangs serve as auxiliaries to male gangs, there has been a surge of female gangs that operate on their own. Because female gang members believe they must prove themselves to their male counterparts, they will use extreme violence against other female gangs or, in some rare instances, against male gangs. So they are just as dangerous.
Q: There seems to be a lot of gang activity coming from my neighbor's house. What should I do?
A: If there is not a neighborhood watch in your area, consider establishing one. Neighbors who organize themselves to rid their streets of gang houses do much better than individuals who try to go it alone. There is safety in numbers--gangs use this concept constantly. Neighbors, with the assistance and directions of the police, can begin to address neighborhood gang activity in effective ways if they work together.
Q: Are gangs just made up of kids and teenagers?
A: Surprisingly, juveniles under the age of 18 make up only a small percentage of a gang's membership. Many hard-core and associate gang members are individuals in their twenties who may have been incarcerated either in the local jail, state prison, or both. Older members recruit children to do many of the gang's illegal activities, knowing that if kids get caught, they will usually receive a much lighter sentence than adults will. It should also be noted that in some areas of the country, particularly in economically depressed areas and where jobs are scarce, gang members are joining up for the first time while in their 20's. This is done for financial reasons.
Q: How big is the gang problem?
A: The latest statistics provided by the National Youth Gang Center reveal that there are over 25,000 gangs nationwide, with a total membership of over 600,000. It's also suggested that these figures may be conservative estimates. Police departments and communities tend to under-report their gang problem. Total gang population of the United States may actually be between 850,000 to 950,000.
To give you an idea of the size of the gang problem:
There are nearly as many gangs as there are McDonald's, Burger King's, and Wendy's combined.
If 850,000 - 950,000 gang members were standing back-to-back, that line would stretch 240 to 270 miles! That's the distance between San Francisco California and Las Vegas Nevada. (and you thought the lines of people waiting to see TITANIC were long...)
Q: Who runs these gangs?
A: Many gangs are run by incarcerated adult gang leaders. For example, the notorious Chicago-based Gangster Disciples number over 25,000, yet they are governed by one man from his jail cell, Larry Hoover, who is currently serving a 150-200 year prison term. Many of these leaders give orders to local area coordinators, or generals, as they are sometimes called. Smaller gangs are more loosely knit, and leadership can take the form of several individuals who are best in certain areas such as fighting, drug sales, or weapons procurement.
Q: What should schools do to combat the gang problem?
A: Meet the problem head-on. Adopt a zero-tolerance approach. Principals, administrators, and teachers should determine how much gang activity their school has and then take steps towards abatement. Many schools have policies, which address gang problems. These policies include some of the following: banning Starter jackets and other professional and collegiate sports team apparel, banning pagers and portable phones, or having a closed campus. School must work in conjunction with parents and local law enforcement officials to find as many resources as they can to battle the problem and help save these kids.
Q: I'm a single mother and have to work full time. How can I keep my children away from gangs?
A: Try and get your children involved in activities outside of school. Children that have a lot of unstructured time on their hands are prime recruitment material for gangs. Look to your extended family for assistance. Grandparents, uncles and aunts (yours and your child's) older cousins--all of these can help provide structured time for your child. Remember though, the extended family's activities can never replace the valuable time that you spend with your child.
The single parent who does not have an extended family can try and obtain help from co-workers, parishioners, neighbors, and local organizations such as Big Brothers/ Big Sisters, Scouting, gang outreach centers, Y.M.C.A.'s and Y.W.C.A's, Park District programs, youth centers, and so forth. Get on the phone or visit these places with your child as soon as possible.
Q: Is gang graffiti just meaningless scribble or is it some type of art?
A: It's neither. While some graffiti has elements of artistic flair, it serves as a gang advertisement or newspaper. Graffiti not only marks a territory a gang has claimed; it also serves as a warning and challenge to other gangs. Graffiti, depending how it is written, can also honor a fallen comrade (usually with a tombstone or RIP), list the street names of gang members, and show opposition and disrespect for another gang. Also, gang graffiti should be reported to the police. The police may wish to photograph the graffiti so that they know which gang is operating in which area. Also, graffiti removal should NEVER be done by one individual. Gangs have been known to retaliate against individuals painting over their graffiti. Again, there is safety in numbers.
Q: Should I search my child's room?
A: Absolutely! You own the house!! You pay the rent!! My colleague at the probation department I work for told me of a woman she knew, asked for her help some time ago. She suspected her son was involved with gangs, but felt uneasy going into his room. My colleague and her went into the son's room and there they found a new 25 inch color TV, (bigger than the 19" TV the family used in the living room) a new VCR and money, lots of money. Mostly in small denominations of 10's and 20's. Stuffed between the mattress and box springs and found in a dresser drawer, the amount was staggering. This young man was not employed---so he certainly had some explaining to do. The woman wisely asked for the help of her extended family using her son's rather sizeable uncles and cousins. All were waiting for the young man when he got home, and the dialogue began. If you suspect your son or daughter are involved with gangs, or drugs---search their bedroom. If you don't have an extended family to confront your son or daughter, look to your co-workers, neighbors, parishioners, gang outreach personnel, etc. You must become resourceful. Drastic times call for drastic measures!
Q: When should a parent begin to take steps to combat the gang problem?
A: NOW. Some parents, either through ignorance or denial, find out their son or daughter is in a gang when they get a phone call from a police department, hospital, or morgue. A child's getting into a gang is not an overnight decision. Parents should look, listen, and turn their awareness up a notch. Look at what your child is wearing, whom he or she is associating with, and whether there is an overall change in attitude towards you or life in general. Listen to what your child says, and especially to what others say. Many parents turn a deaf ear or bristle when they hear from neighbors, other parents, and school personnel that their child may be in a gang. Your child may present himself or herself one way in your presence, and have a totally hidden gang life outside the home. Ignorance is no excuse. Look for the signs and then address the issue. Solicit help from others, then take control. It can be done.
• Please click here for information on the Rockford Graffiti Hotline