No. 166



One of our fine city police officers came and spoke to our Lions Club a few weeks ago on the subject of gangs and he really opened my eyes. If you know about gangs in America and their activity, what I'm going to say will be old news to you, but in my case I had heard reports about gangs on television but that was about all. In some of the smaller communities across our country gangs may not be a problem but they are so pervasive, the more we know about them the better off we will be. One of the handouts that Officer Haynes shared was titled, U.S. GANGS: AN ANALYSIS OF RECENT DATA, that was written and compiled by George W. Knox, Ph.D.. Dr. Knox is the director of the National Gang Crime Research Center in Chicago, Illinois.

The report covered a wide range of topics involving gangs in America and their activity and here are a few of the areas: gang members among the nation's prison population, racial conflicts among confined juveniles, simple questions, complex answers, gang proliferation or gang migration, gangs in high school, a breakdown of the various gangs state by state and it wrapped up with a summary, conclusion and some very good recommendations.

If you think we don't have a gang problem here in America here is a documented statistic. There are from two to four gang members for every sworn law enforcement officer in the United States. To me, that's scary. From all accounts, with a few rare exceptions, we know that gangs and their activity is bad news. Gang members are involved in illegal drugs, auto theft, and other crimes which either directly or indirectly affects every citizen in our nation. I feel a part of that affect each time I pay an insurance premium.

While statistics are important because they give us perspective, I always like to reduce things down to the personal level because this is where we live. The one thing that Officer Haynes said that stuck in my mind is that in most cases, gang members are Society's Throw Away Kids. Here is what he meant by that. More likely than not, a gang member at one time was a young man who was attending school but did not have the material things like most of his peers.

While this description is by no means exclusive, go back a few years and think of a young man who comes to school in old, worn out tennis shoes, faded blue jeans, no transportation and very little spending money. If this humiliation were not enough, he was often made fun of, ridiculed and was the butt end of jokes. About this time a gang leader comes along and sizes up the situation and begins to cultivate a new gang member. His approach is to provide this young man with things he was not getting at home. First, genuine acceptance into a group of people who become his friends. Then comes the success trappings of society like a gold chain, new clothes, transportation and spending money. In short, the gang has now become his family.

A gang member and his new family's bond is so strong that it can't be broken, even when he is sent to prison for selling drugs and other illegal activities. It's a sad but all too often true story. Unfortunately, there is much more that space does not permit me to share with you such as gang names, signs, graffiti, and how they wage war to protect their turf. Hopefully what I've shared with you has been of interest because I wanted you to know or be reminded of Society's Throw Away Kids. The way to deal with this problem is to become better informed and to identify potential gang members and help them before it's too late. What we need most in our nation is positive role models for our kids and we can all be that, if we choose to do so. (Jim Davidson is a motivational speaker and syndicated columnist. You may contact him at 2 Bentley Drive, Conway, AR 72034.)