Gang Awareness in Schools Needs to Target Boys and Girls
Once upon a time, the mention of a gang brought to mind hooligan boys with no purpose or direction that were just looking to get into things but not real trouble. Gangs were more affectionately recognized as getting into a little trouble but they didn’t go around carrying semi-automatic weapons and they weren’t girls. The face of today’s gang members have changed. They’re younger. They’re fiercer. They’re unafraid…and they’re girls. It would be a misstatement to say only older girls at that. Unfortunately, the reality that exists is that the age requirements are getting lower and the number of boys and girls who are taking up an interest in gang affiliation has increased in many areas.
The outline of what constitutes a gang has evolved over the years. Gone are the days when members all have to wear a matching scarf or jacket. Many gangs are opting for more permanent marking such as tattoos and if you don’t believe your 12 year old can go to a tattoo parlor or basement tattoo artist and get a tattoo, you’re in need of a wakeup call. A child who gives the appearance in size of being around the age of 16 or 17 can walk into most tattoo shops with cash in hand and no questions will be asked.
Where poverty and crime are high, many such neighborhoods have gangs because they are able to prey on the young and defenseless. Gang affiliation also often creates the appearance of status and affluence, which is a powerful attraction for poor and lonely young boys and girls. Additionally, these gangs are often the drug running circuits and local youth are used as delivery people and sidewalk sellers because they are less likely to get picked up by the police.
Many children from these areas do not voluntarily choose to become part of a gang however. Often they are observed as loners and targeted by existing gang members. When this happens, they are offered the “protection” and strength of the gang and told that it’s in their best interest to join. Subsequently, these children find themselves forced to commit illegal activities to avoid the same punishment the gang delivers to non-gang members.
Gang awareness in schools needs to approach girls and boys and to give them options and information about what to do if they are being threatened by a gang member. There are many organizations that offer the great speeches and hand out t-shirts about saying no to gangs but what about when these children have to walk the gang-filled streets alone? Who is there to help and protect them? When schools take advantage of available resources such as after school programs and buddy systems, more girls and boys can say no to gangs without fear.