Armed, organized street gangs are once again wreaking havoc in the streets of Fort Wayne.
Although the majority of perpetrators as well as their victims are males ranging between the ages of 17 to 26, the influence of gang life continues to reach out to those as young as middle schoolers and can even extend into the elementary grades. Parents, educators, school resource officers and any other adult who works with children must be aware that such influence can occur right under their noses. And if adults are not observant and fail to react, the negative impact on children can be destructive on a variety of levels.
The attraction of gang life and behavior has forever lured young males who have turned their backs to conventional ways of life and values. And certainly the influence and practices of a family unit looms large in directing its younger member toward a life of crime. It has been said there are families within our community who are well into their third generation of gang life. It is not unusual for older police and probation officers to come across a young troublemaker and recognized gang member whose father they had dealt with 15 to 20 years earlier. Within the ranks of many gangs that have had staying power, there is a cradle-to-grave philosophy. It is disturbing to discover a first photograph of a newborn male infant lying in a crib with a bandana (denoting the colors of the gang) and a handgun, symbolically announcing the child’s induction into the gang.
For other young males, bloodlines may dictate their future as they fall under the influence of other siblings who’ve gotten themselves into gang activity. Despite that what they’re doing is wrong, to a younger brother who idolizes the older one, joining the gang becomes the act of one following his hero.
Other reasons for a young person to seek out the gang life is the perception of protection. Perhaps in the school or in the neighborhood, the potential recruit has been beaten up, threatened or intimidated by gang members. So he seeks out the security of an opposing gang. Despite the reality that he has only increased the dangers he will now face, he has in essence prescribed to the old adage: “If you can’t beat them, join them.”
All across America, school officials have found themselves forced to acknowledge and react to gang activity within their buildings. From conflict to confrontations to carrying weapons and drugs, school administrators just find ways to deter potential criminal activity before it happens. And if crimes and violent acts do take place, how do you then react while trying to guarantee other students’ safety while providing acceptable discipline to the offenders?
Principals are often shocked to find even elementary-aged students knowledgeable beyond their years in the ways of gangs. There are the students who are discovered drawing gang graffiti on their notebooks, writing and teaching gang symbols and gang laws to other students who otherwise might never have been introduced to street gangs. These young gang wannabes become big fish in a little pond seeking attention from their peers in being recognized as a tough guy.
Of course, there is the media and in particular the music industry. Going on two decades now, gangster rap has held sway on our young people. It influences young males to act badly, to treat women even worse, to carry guns, dress terrible, demand respect without earning it, smoke blunts, drink heavy and to turn their backs on their education.
Perhaps to recognize the ways that kids are drawn to an overly romanticized notion that gangs and the thug life are an avenue to eventual survival can ultimately give us an edge in developing plans in meeting this scourge head on. During the late ’80s and the early ’90s, the issues and environment involving street gang violence were much the same as what we are facing now. Fort Wayne, as well as the rest of the country, met the challenge as was evident in the years after 1995 as juvenile crime rates dropped dramatically. But times have changed as have theories and policies concerning at-risk youth.
But this is a challenge that has been issued by the devil himself, and for the sake of the future of Fort Wayne, it cannot go unmet.