As I hung my copy of the ‘Street Gang Specialist’ certificate on my office wall, I paused to reflect upon the effort it took. Three days of no-nonsense classroom training, two nights of extensive homework, and a written test that would have reduced many a college student to tears. When the smoke cleared and the certificates were handed out, yours truly had proudly picked up another tool for his arsenal. Of course, my superiors were not happy that I had received such advanced training…but I’ll not digress any further on that point.
I didn’t have to wait very long to put the new training to good use. Within two weeks, some of the more obvious bangers on my caseload began to ‘duck’ (street term for hiding) their colors before my office appointments. Clients who had been used to coming in dressed to ‘represent’ their ‘favorite street flavor’ received a tip about one P.O. getting ‘wise’ to their game AND calling them on it. Other lesser ‘risk’ female clients and their parents were sent as spies by their banger boyfriends to ‘check out’ my new certification and report back whether or not it was real so the word could be passed on to their friends.
Next, to further frustrate client rebellion, authority figures in their lives--be they mother, father, legal guardian, or foster parent--also received a quick course from yours truly in the arts of banger spotting and stopping. They were encouraged to check their OWN child from head to toe. I reminded parents that their child was NOT born in Juvenile Court, but was THEIR child; and that their darling was heading further into the deep water of the street gang realm. Many parents had no clue (at least that they were willing to admit) that their beloved child was slipping further into the gang life. However, more than a few of my parents left the office with a spring in their step at being encouraged to become parents again.
WHY PARENTS NEED TO BE EMPOWERED AND INFORMED:
Some of my ‘hardcore’ clients were actually attending school and getting their grades up. Probation violations on my caseload went way down as some of the parents of my clients--perhaps for the first time in years--were overjoyed that someone had encouraged them to BE parents.
This is what I believe it will take to get a grip on the modern street gang problem; truly empowering and informing parents as to their duty in supervising their OWN children AND giving them the tools needed to get the job done AT HOME. This observation, of course, put me at odds with many of my colleagues in the criminal justice system--but that’s another story for another day.
The Modern Street Gang (or MSG for short) have seven ‘eyes’ that are designed to instill fear, silence parents and win young converts: Infiltration, Intimidation, Information, Instigation, Ignorance, Instability, and an Insatiable appetite for wrongdoing. However, let’s be honest. A child--even a teenager--wants a parent to be a PARENT and not a ‘buddy’. The years, the parent who dares to discipline and dares to balance concern with the rod IS the one that even the toughest of street thugs secretly admires. Mama’s voice and Daddy’s belt are still MORE effective than the cop’s nightstick or a judge’s gavel.
But, I digress.
Society has--for its own economic concerns--quietly pushed parents off of their thrones. The revolution against meaningful parenting has been accomplished. Parents have become relegated to nothing more than walking wallets and purses, expected to take their orders and cues from those who know better, whether the ‘experts’ be on Madison Avenue, the small screen, or on a basketball court.
BACK IN THE DAY OF MOM AND DAD KNEW BEST:
There USED to be an institution called ‘the family’ which birthed children who were raised in a place called ‘the home’, NOT a court of law. In the Black community--unlike other communities--two-career families were a matter of survival. Day care was provided by a nice neighbor--often another stay-at-home mother or a grandmother. In those days, mother and father were tough; single parents were tougher, and the extended family was MURDER. There were no ‘plea-bargains’, no appeals, no alibis. Chores were work to earn an allowance. Everyone worked together for the good of the home.
Sassing your parent was not tolerated. Lastly, if you cut up at school, in the street, or at a neighbor’s house, you got it there--and you got it at home. No it was not perfect…but it had worked for more than 1900 years.
Who were we to come up with something better?
A swarm of social reformers, school experimenters, and government experts in the mid-1960s led to the creation of a new set of industries. They eventually grew, evolved, and developed budgets, personnel, and grant needs. Next, social workers, police officers, probation/parole officers, and medical personnel were put IN schools, while parents were not ‘allowed’ to be as involved as they USED to be in the school setting, except to ‘help’ raise money to pay for school programs AND the salaries of these extra ‘helpers’. Parental authority was removed in the disciplining of children. Fathers were marginalized, then declared optional. Single parenting was held to be the ‘way’ to go. Children were encouraged to become little adults, with big rights and plenty of ‘freedom’ without responsibility. Education? Changed from the traditional, to the experimental. Open a book in school, teacher, is not held to be ‘cool’. Turn on Channel One or ESPN, and you could have your classes ‘riveted’--but not necessarily learning.
THE CHURCH AS AN ACCOMPLICE TO THE SOCIAL MAYHEM:
I recall a chat I had a few years ago with a local pastor on the subject of evangelism. He was the pastor of a small church, but he was surrounded by several good-sized apartment complexes, along with a high school and other assorted middle-income neighborhoods. When I looked at the size of his church, and the fields of people in his immediate area awaiting to learn about his church, I asked him if he or his congregation had tried to evangelize the apartments nearby.
“We tried--and failed.” Noted the pastor.
Sad to say, a new pastor replaced him a few years later.
One of the unsung accomplices to the social mayhem we see in our streets now--in my view--is the modern church. It boils down to the fundamentals of what a church IS from a biblical perspective to how the church has ‘evolved’ to get along with the modern world. The church is supposed to be a supporter OF the family, instead of its enemy. If one reads the Bible, it clearly shows that the first institution created by God was that of marriage; the second was the family. Further down the list came the church. If the order was good enough for God, why have so many churches stepped away from His blueprint? Simple; the twin idols of money and numbers.
How do I dare make such a statement? Let’s examine recent church innovations and programs. Sunday school has become the ‘drive by drop offs’ program for parents who are never invited to stick around. Youth departments had ministers and staff who were more concerned about putting on good shows for the teens to pad/build ministry resumes…but did not encourage nor parents how to bond with their children. Teens in these ministries may have been encouraged to be proud of their parents and respect their authority, but little was done to follow up on such encouragement. Oh yes, attached to each of these ‘innovations’ are the instructions of ‘big name’ church leaders (male and female) who claim to have the inside track to ‘boost’ attendance…but not holiness nor commitment to biblical doctrine. How could a mere parent or parents hope to ‘compete’ with marquis quality church leaders who have taken the time to lend their expert advice to a local church?
MOM AND DAD ARE MAKING A COMEBACK:
Of course, let us not put the entire blame on the other institutions of society without placing a share on parents themselves. Again, Back in the 1960s and 1970s when I was coming of age, two parent families were the norm, and two career households were a matter of survival in the Black community.
How do fathers and mothers NOW fill their time? They have become programmed to chasing the gold, the glitz, and the glamour of modern society. Folk, in other words, learned quickly how to ‘use people, worship things, and idolize more’. Houses became bigger, but were not homes; marriage vows were shredded, but were replaced with new husbands and new wives; jobs were paid better, but were located further and further away from home. Since Mom and Dad had spent much of a generation abandoning and abdicating their God-given roles, the trap was sprung for their eventual replacement by the social planners.
All is NOT lost…and I’ll explain why.
Mom and Dad are making a comeback, as parental authority is ‘cool’ again.
To be honest, brave couples and single parents have already been taking a national stand against the rigors of the ‘name and fame’ crowd; the courts, schools, and government to recapture the rights once common to ALL parents. The revolution is already underway as the ‘system’ can not afford to continue to supervise children who do NOT belong to them. Bankruptcy of the system was the needed spark to bring parents back in from the PC wilderness. Parents CAN make a comeback IF they want to. The prize--their children--is far too great to be abandoned to the gang warlords of our modern era.
IS YOUR CHILD LEANING TOWARDS OR LEADING A GANG?
Parents understand and know their children--or, they should know them. Society’s first line of defense IS the home; not the social program, the cop, or the school. The home is where a parent can be honest about their child.
Let’s be bottom line about this next matter: Is your child leaning towards or leading a gang? Surprisingly, some of the top teen lieutenants in modern street gangs are quite comfortable in leading a ‘double life’ at home, and their mother or father are the last to know what is going on UNTIL either the police or rival gang members are pounding on the front door, guns drawn.
Gangs and gang members operate on secrecy and lies as their PRIMARY calling cards. The only way that a parent can gain an upper hand is to check their OWN child’s potential for involvement. A proviso must be added at this point; IF your child is found to be involved, and they have sworn to you they aren’t--but you secretly know that they are-- the parent ONLY has TWO options: Turn the child, and the evidence you find over to the authorities for a good, strong dose of reality for the sake of your teen. Second, secure the services of a lawyer to make sure your child isn’t ‘tagged’ by the cops with every major crime that has taken place in your city over the last year. Yes, I know that this may seem to be cruel and heartless. When it comes to gangs and their members, there is an old street adage: “Whosoever gets to the DA/Prosecutor first, gets the BEST deal!” It is far better for you and your child to be on the right side of the justice bar, rather than being on the wrong side.
In case you need another ‘refresher’, let me give you my own short list as to how gang life is designed to ‘hurt’ the modern teen:
*Academically: School Is Sacrificed (stuff that you need) To Fill Your Head With Stuff You Don’t Need. (Each Day Missed Equals 3 To Make Up)
*Mentally: Takes A Lot Of Mental Energy To Memorize/Study Signs, Symbols Codes, Constitution, Bylaws & To Keep ALL That Stuff SECRET!
*Physically: Late hours, smoking, drinking, drug use, possible STDs, juvie/jail/prison.
*Emotionally: Death of fellow bangers; Injury to your OWN family members.
*Socially: Ages 12-17 are the Times Of Greatest Development and Skill Building. Not To Mention The Fact That You Are Involved With The Scum Of The Universe.
*Spiritually: Praying prayers To An Organization Who Not Only Can Not Help You, But Can Not Help Themselves Or Their Community.
*Economically: You Can’t List Being A Gang Member On A Resume; You MAY Have ‘Some’ Of The ‘Skills’ But Can’t Hone Them To Be Openly Successful.
WHAT AND WHERE--A PARENT MAY START LOOKING:
Please keep in mind that MSGs are recruiting children as young as seven or eight into their ranks as beginning members. Remember that list of the ‘eyes’ of gangs I provided earlier? Ignorance is on that list for a reason; parents are often the last to know about what their child is doing. Here is a short list of a few ways you can stop the violence by stopping your ignorance of your child’s activities:
Check & Maintain Contact With Other Parents.
Check Youth For Tattoos, Marks/Bruises.
Check Backpacks For Clothing Items, ‘Extra’ Cash.
Check School Locker For ‘Alternative’ Clothing.
Check Notebooks For ‘Gang Graffiti’ (signs/symbols)
Check For Cough Syrup/Mouthwash/Inhalants.
What about their room? Here is another short list of things to look for, especially if your teen already has a separate computer, cell phone, and entertainment system:
Weapons/Cash/Drugs/Excess Property--Drop Zone?
Gang Signs On Walls/In Art/In Notebook?
Look For ‘Secret’ Drawers Behind/In Furniture
Check Vents, Upper/Lower Closets, Under Beds
Strange Smells & Heavy Use Of Air Fresheners
Different Sports Jerseys BUT Same Number /Color Combinations?
If your teen is already on active on Probation or Parole, they will have a host of restrictions placed upon them by the court. They must obey the orders of the court and the terms of their probation or parole. Thus, they need to be aware of curfew rules, and stay away from other teens who may have drugs, weapons, or both. Remember, a teen may be found not guilty/not true of a crime…but if they are on Probation or Parole, they can be found guilty/true of a Probation or Parole violation because the court has informed them…in writing and through their PO/PA about the terms of their time under the jurisdiction of the court.
Let me add another item here for parental consideration.
It is called ‘waiver’.
This popular tool of the juvenile justice system is active in a host of jurisdictions and simply means that your child could be sent ‘downtown’ to be processed and tried as an adult IF certain adult crimes are committed. In my neck of the woods, if a child is sixteen years old and commits one of the ‘Big 10’ crimes as a juvenile, they are sent, or ‘waived’ downtown. Yes, the teens think it increases their ‘street rep’ to stand trial as an adult. What they don’t realize is that their conviction as an adult WILL put adult charges on their files and put them in PRISON….not jail…for a number of years.
Now that you know the risks, it is important that parents also are aware of WHO their children hang around with by their REAL names…not their street names. If a child can’t tell you the real names of their friends, where they live, or who their parents are, these are teens your teen does not need to be around.
I realize that parents have a lot of information to process in this column. This is an ongoing series to help parents gain a firm foundation on the issue of gangs. Not to scare the parent, but to keep them informed as to what is happening in our streets--before they receive that unwelcome late-night knock on their door.
MIKE RAMEY is a Certified Street Gang Specialist, and Owner of THE GANG LINE. He does seminars and workshops on the dangers of Modern Street Gangs for Law Enforcement, Schools, Churches, and Parent Groups. This is the second in an Internet series to let the public know the truth about Gangs and realistic solutions to stopping their spread. Email him at MGRamey@ameritech.net or by mail at PO Box 20845, Indianapolis, IN 46220.
© 2006, 2007 Mike Ramey/Barnstorm Communications.
Used by permission, BlackandChristian.com, 2007.