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America: The Godfather of Gang Existence by Keona Robinson AP English Language and Composition Mr. McRaith January 30, 2009 Final Draft To all the American Gangsters “Ideally the solution to the gang problems is linked to resolving all problems arising directly or indirectly from the tremendous social and economic inequalities in our society.” -William Dudley and Louise I. Gerdes Robinson 1 He stepped down off the stoop of his shabby two-flat apartment. He slowly inhaled, as he scanned the poverty ridden block of Grenshaw. His mother watched him from nearby through the window. She paid close attention, hoping to see exactly what he saw. On one corner they saw a group full of drug addicts hovering over a young man dressed in jewels, fresh new tennis shoes, and a designer outfit. They watched as that same man pulled out his phone, engaged in what looked like an important call, while he walked to his 2009 Mercedes CLS 550. The addicts fled joyfully into the day. She looked away, hoping to find a better scene. Her next was even more depressing. On the other corner they saw a line full of young men and women with their crying children headed into the unemployment office. She couldn't bear that sight either, so she looked away. Across the street from that they watched as the signs and paint chipped off of one of the few schools in their neighborhood. Kids rushed out as the bell rung without a book-bag or worries of doing any homework. This had to be worst of them all. Finally, they watched as teens walked past with their radios mimicking the artists they saw on TV. She couldn't quit hear what they were saying through the window but she was sure it wasn't pleasant from their aggressive gestures. Within a split second, with just a blink, she was seeing with her own eyes again. She watched as her son's friends walked up. They each greeted each other with a special hand shake. Their dark hands swung in the air and ended with a powerful pounded on their chest. They were all dressed in the same colors and were known for their criminal activities. She wondered where she had gone wrong with him, how he ended up in a gang. She understood that she couldn't always be around because of work. She even admitted to herself that she would sometimes have one drink too many, but overall she was a good parent and she did her best with him. She realized that her son didn't see things the way she did. Robinson 2 The scene that was witnessed above can be replicated in urban communities across the country. What we witnessed was a criminal enterprise organized and ran by gangs. Gangs as institutions and organizations are prevalent all over this country. We have the Cripps and Bloods in LA. We have the Latin Kings and Maniacs in Chicago. We even have the Asian Boys and the Chinese Triads. Name an ethnic group and there is a gang associated with it. Gangs are not a new phenomenon. They have been with us since human beings have organized society. The question becomes, in the mist of the organization of nations and family, why do gangs exist? Why do human beings form gangs? In fact, the purpose of this paper is to examine the question, why have gangs and mafias emerged as a social, political, and economic phenomenon in America? A plausible explanation for the emergence of gangs is that America society‟s, with all of its promise, failed to provide economic security, political access, and social integration for all of its groups. As a consequence groups banned together to get for themselves, what the government and other political organizations in society have not provided for them. According to Street Gangs: A Secret History, a documentary hosted on the history channel, "Before 1830s there was no such thing as a police force". If you were a victim of a crime, you had to deal with the problem yourself. Street Gangs: A Secret History tells the story of the history of street gangs in America. They describe it saying that as more and more immigrants poured into our nation, America's social divide widened. American natives didn't like the new immigrants and felt they were inferior beings. The Irish were especially drawn to the U.S. They were surprised once they arrived. Upon their arrival, they found that living conditions were far more worst than those they had left. Jobs were limited, cities were despicable, and discrimination was growing rapidly. These immigrants were from relatively small villages and placed in a society where they are put down by the majority. They had no money, no skills, no Robinson 3 education and they were placed at the bottom of society. Immigrants naturally turned to gang life in their day to day struggle in surviving urban America. These individuals only option was to ban together to survive. Impoverished immigrants brought gangs and mafias to America. The origin of the mafia emerged on an island off the southern coast of Italy. The Italian government neglected the people of Sicily forcing them to look elsewhere for that governmental support. The mafia then stepped up into office. Edward Gray, in his explicative documentary American Justice: Target-Mafia, claims the mafia took the place of the government in Sicily. They provided protection, jobs, rules, loans, marriage licenses, and participated in charity (4:36). The series of neglect from the government fueled the power of the mafia and seemingly played a large role in its origins. The mafia succeeded because they provided the people with the benefits that the government did not. In the late 1800s many immigrants fled to America; some were trying to escape persecution in their homeland, most were just looking for new opportunities. Gray insists that the phrase used to describe the "mainstream" culture of the United States around the turn of the century was W.A.S.P (White, Anglo-Saxon, and Protestant) (5:01). These new immigrants were not white, multi-ethnic, Catholic, or eastern orthodox. These people did not fit into the ideal American society at the time. The US forced them into subsidizes poverty stricken homes. They didn‟t provide them with healthcare, education or financial support. They didn‟t even make the effort to find some sort of way to communicate with the new immigrants, saying that they didn‟t speak English. The United States government neglected and mistreated the new immigrants and just as they did in their homelands, they looked to gangs. The mafia and other gangs immediately found a place in this new country. The more people looked to them for help, the more power they obtained. According to the “National Gang Robinson 4 History”, an article by the Gripe for Kids Organization, “As the late 1800s roared in, the new generation of gangs and gangsters was created out of the new immigrants. Irish gangs like the Five Points, Whyos, Dead Rabbits, and Plug Uglies, and Jewish gangs like the Monk Eastman Gang terrorized New York City streets.” The mafia was even more successful in finding a place within the immigrant communities because the immigrants felt disoriented. They were poor and didn‟t speak English. They looked to mafia bosses who offered protection and identity. “National Gang History” and Street Gangs: A Secret History argue that one of the most notorious gangs during this time was a group called the Five Points Gangs located in lower Manhattan. They were called the Five Points Gang because their turf was in the shape of a five point star. By the 1820s, the Five Points were the heart of the Irish Community. This was known to be one of the roughest neighborhoods in America during that time. It was over crowded, unsanitary, and had no real running water. They didn't have sewers, flushing toilets, or even garbage pickups. They were living in tight coordinates and they instinctively banned together. The poor immigrants of the area respected members of the Five Points and looked to them for protection. When you‟re stuck in a place where you don't know anything or anyone, you support the familiar. Gangs and mafias were familiar to the new immigrants. Not only were they familiar, their acts were familiar. The new immigrants were use to the mafia and gangs standing in for the government. There were three groups of immigrants that represented a large portion of Americans gangs and organized crime. These three groups were the Irish, Italians and Jews. American Justice: Target-Mafia argues that these three groups came to America already having a negative attitude about the law, each for their own individual reasons (9:11). The Irish had a long tradition of opposing British laws and authority. The Italians were use to being neglected and abused by their government. The Jews were use to their government taking their rights to property and not Robinson 5 protecting them. When the United States government mistreated them as well, the mafia took charge once again. Although the mafia was adequately serving their community, they needed money to do so. They found that the easiest way to make money was through crimes like kidnapping, bootlegging, and extortion. In the 1920s prohibition was passed in America. The eighteenth amendment made all importing, exporting, transporting, selling, and manufacturing of intoxicating liquor prohibited. Gray believed that prohibition was passed to make families more moral and to prevent the further deterioration of American culture. Drunken fathers would come home and abuse their wives. People would use all of their money on alcohol and weren't able to take care of their families. Some didn‟t even come home because they spent so much of their time in bars. Many felt like alcohol was destroying the American culture. Renardo Barden, an outspoken author, in his descriptive book, Gangs, insists that, “Many simply refused to give up their long-standing habits of drinking” (40). Many Americans were willing to break the law, prohibition, to get alcohol. Barden claims that “To some extent, so does their investment in crime.” Although people were just looking for a good time, a home away from home, or just a drink to relax, those who supported the illegal sell of alcohol helped criminals start illegal organizations. Criminals made money off of the illegal sell of alcohol. Barden says, “Men and women who had become wealthy by disregarding the liquor laws now had „organized‟ crime to contend with” (42). It was so many people in the bootlegging business that people begin to organize gangs and crime. Crime became much like a corporate business. Mafia bosses arranged for their goods to be imported in order to make money. Bootleggers and smugglers used boats from Canada, the Caribbean, and Mexico to smuggle liquor into the United States. They established illegal bars called speakeasies where people could come to drink and other franchises. These Robinson 6 organizations like many in our society were profitable so people were drawn to them. America Justice: Target Mafia argues that celebrity god father, Frankie Yale, put his image on cigars making him a very wealthy man. When people bought the cigars, they saw his famous. These cigars made him very famous, making it easier for him to advance in other fields like bootlegging. The bootlegging business rapidly grew and everyone wanted to be apart of it, they began to compete. They found that the easiest way to eliminate competition was to literally eliminate other gangs and criminal organizations like the mafia. American Justice: Target Mafia tells the story of Alphonso Capone, who made the largest profit of the illegal sell of alcoholic beverages. Al Capone organized gangs and bars all over Chicago. Capone even had police working for him. When he felt like someone else was making to much money of bootlegging, he would kill them. Gang leaders begin killing their competition just to boost their sells of illegal beverages. Not only was there a large demand for alcohol during the prohibition, later the demand for drugs like marijuana, heroin, and crack cocaine also increased. In our society, whenever there is a high demand for something, whoever the supplier is will make big bucks. Barden talks about “The smoking of marijuana, while still illegal, became socially acceptable in many parts of American society” (30). Gang members, who obviously don‟t have a problem with breaking the law, provided individuals with drugs. BET‟s documentary series American Gangster tells the story of Frank Lucas. Frank Lucas is a former kingpin from Harlem, New York. In the 1970s he was known for smuggling heroin from overseas in the coffins of dead soldiers. This alone shows how the law meant absolutely nothing to him. As long as drug dealing was making money, he would do anything necessary to provide people with drugs. American Gangster claims that “…Lucas became America‟s most successful drug kingpin in the early 1970s, reportedly Robinson 7 grossing up to $1 million a day.” This, for him, was just another quick way to make money. Members of these criminal organization‟s sales rapidly increased because the demand for the product increased. The American media plays a significant role in the existence of gangs and mafias. Old cowboy flicks starring the James Gang and Billy the Kid and musicals like Westside Story, whose entire plot was based around how ideal gangs are, were some of our nation‟s greatest film. For some strange reason, our society glamorizes the idea of a "bad guy". When asked, “Is there anything in the cultural traditions of America that glamorize gangs and deviance?”, Nick Kryzcka, a Sociology and U.S. History teacher at Von Steuben Metro Science Center, replied, “In American history there is a long-standing tradition of kind of glorifying the individual rough and ready violent man.” He describes that a man on his own with just a gun, able to take what he want and do what he wants, is praised in our society. He goes on to talk about Andrew Jackson, an important individual in our nations‟ history. Kryzka, an Urbana graduated, argues that “Andrew Jackson was a president in the 1820s, who earned his reputation before he went into politics as a thug basically, somebody who would get into gun fights on a regular bases, would kill men in cold blood, and walk away from those encounters as a hero. And a lot of people actually admitted that they liked that about him.” Andrew Jackson, although we would label him a criminal in our country, he still became one of our presidents, one of the most powerful men in the world. It‟s something about the individual‟s willingness to do damage to others that attracted people to Andrew Jackson. Those same attractions still exist among our present day American society. Kryzka even mentioned the myth of the American cowboy. In almost all old western cowboy movies that individual killer and street gangs are glorified. That same idea is promoted with gangs and mafias. And when the Robinson 8 media is not actually promoting the notion of gangs and mafias, they are misleading the American viewers. The media often misleads the American youth. Barden, in his book Gangs, argues that “The sports pages and music video channels are filled with stories of people who make huge amounts of money for doing next to nothing” (35). Teen hip-hop sensation, Souljah Boy, released his new hit single Marco Polo saying “Say the same lines but the fans aren‟t bored of me 75 thousand dollars if you wanna order me.” According to Billboard.com Souljah Boy is one of the most popular, most listened to, and most adored artist of 2008. Why is Souljah Boy paid more than teachers for doing absolutely nothing. Kids see this and think that everything is supposed to be that easy. They think that you don‟t have to work hard to be successful. Young kids especially are easily manipulated by the ideas that the media sells them. Every kid‟s dream is to be rich and famous. When the media is falsely depicting the road to fame and fortune, we promote gang activity. When kids can‟t be the next Michael Jordan or Oprah Winfrey, they look for other easy means to success. Usually, those means involve gangs. Gerdes argues that “The media misrepresent the gang problem by focusing on the individual gang rather than on the social causes that contribute to the formation of gangs” (95). The media is one of those social causes. Public officials and lawmakers don‟t make the existence of gangs any better. Our society immediately labels individual groups as gangs. According to the labeling theory, people derive from other‟s labels, symbols, actions, and reactions. In 1973, William Chambliss conducted a study on labeling. He used two groups of white high school males, who both were involved in criminal acts like theft and drinking. One group was called the Saints, the other was the Roughnecks. When the Saints were approached by the police for their deviant acts they would be cordial and apologize. When the Roughnecks were confronted by the police they would be Robinson 9 disrespectful and insulting. The police and soon everyone else and the community labeled the Roughnecks deviant and the Saints polite. Even though both of these groups were committing the same crimes, the police never bothered the Saints and almost always bothered the Roghnecks. Both of these groups participated in the same criminal activities, but it was up to those police to label them as a gang. This theory suggests that individuals only become deviant when members of society, usually government officials, label them deviant. According to Chanequa Walker-Barnes and Craig A. Mason, in their article, “Delinquency and Substance Use Among Gang-involved Youth: The Moderating Role of Parenting Practices”, they state that “Police tend to classify groups as gangs only if criminals or violent behavior is a major group activity, potentially confounding the relationship between gangs and delinquency.” A gang is nothing more than a group of individuals who have united and sworn to each other. They select a name for their group and they all share one common interest or goal. Our society determines whether they should be labeled gang or not. A good example of this is the Conservative Vice Lords. The Vice Lords begin as a small group of young men who attended an all boys school. These boys were tired of the constant hassle and rules of the school. They each vowed to one day make a difference in their communities. According to Gangsearch.net, “In the 1960s the Conservative Vice Lords transformed themselves from a street gang into an organization devoted to the economic and social empowerment of the African American community in Lawndale, Illinois.” They provide the community with “Better Boys Programs”, the established after school programs, they even created pool halls and game rooms for kids. Mayor Richard J. Daley didn‟t like how much the community praised the Vice Lord. He felt like once a gang, always a gang. He declared the Vice Lord a street gang and closed all of their organizations. When police label them deviant, gangs turn into criminal groups. Robinson 10 Not only do the police label individual groups as gangs, they support them. America‟s officials are just as corrupt as the gangs themselves. Cort R. Kirkwood, in his interesting magazine article, “Border-town Violence: As Illegal Immigrants Flood the Unites States, a Wave of Crimes Committed by Illegals is Crashing into Border Towns and Threatening to Engulf Our Entire Nation,” claims that “Many of the town‟s police are employed by drug lords.” Kirkwood also talks about how insurance companies were quietly selling policies covering kidnapping and ransoms. We can‟t stop or even minimize gang existence if the people we hire to do so participate in criminal activities themselves. If our leaders are criminals, the citizens will follow that example because it‟s deemed okay. Illinois present day governor, Rod Blagojevich, was recently accused of a very illegal act. He was accused of trying to sell the available senator seat. Those officials that aren‟t corrupt don‟t know how to resolve the issue. Jail is usually the punishment for criminals but it‟s not very effective with the case of gang members. Barden argues, “Trasher was the first to question the effectiveness of punishing youthful criminals with prison sentences. He said this was not effective for changing gang member behavior because gang member behavior because gang members outside prison often admired convicts” (16). Gang members only admire the idea of prison because society admires it. They can‟t like something they‟ve never experienced. If deviant children admire the idea of going to prison, we have no way of punishing them. The blame falls on the American society once again. Our society glorifies the idea of deviance and prison. Kids like the idea of prison because they mimic what they see in their environment on TVs and magazines. America‟s insufficient, segregated educational system plays a major role in the pillage of gangs and mafias in America. No matter where you live or attend school in America, education should be the same. Stuyk, in his academic journal article, “Gangs in Our School: Identifying Robinson 11 Gang Indicators in Our School Population,” explains that “For teachers, there is a clear perception that those who teach in more affluent schools need not be concerned with gangs, while those who teach on unstable neighborhoods and area of high drug use and violence do need to be concerned about gangs.” It is already bad enough that these kids don‟t have a protective and supportive environment to live in; they don‟t even have an escape from these environments. They go to school and it‟s just as bad as the society they live in. As a result they turn to gangs. Gangs and mafias are a result of how much the American society values money and materialistic assets. It is apart of our human nature to want what we can‟t have or what everyone else has. According to Barden, “In the 1950‟s Albert K. Cohen, a famous social scientist argued that American society placed too much value on money and the things that money could buy. American society offered high self-esteem to those who could easily acquire money and material things” (16). Most people join gangs to earn quick easy money and materialistic things. If we as a society didn‟t put so much value on those things, kids wouldn‟t go crazy for them. If people didn‟t make such a big deal about those kinds of things, kids wouldn‟t do anything necessary to get those things. Not only does America place too much value on money, society suggests that certain individuals will never obtain that success. According to the sociological strain theory, strain contributes to crime. America places such a strain on people to be wealthy. Money is perhaps the central goal in America. All people, poor or rich, are encouraged to work hard for money. Many gangs look to the illegal path to success because they are discouraged by the positive road to success. They are so discourages by success that they believe they will never obtain such a thing. William Dudley and Louis Gerdes, in their novel, Gangs, insist that, “Even though they might Robinson 12 have high hopes, they are led (often unaware) to see their goals as outside of their world, exceeding their grasp” (84). The problem with most kids is that they feel that their goals and dream are impossible. For example, kids who want to be basketball players or rappers don‟t believe they can do it because outside forces discourage them. Kids see gang members with money and other luxury items and they think that‟s the only option they have. Sarah Hammond‟s academic journal article argues, “Gangs have more money and power than in recent decades, making then attractive to younger children who see powerful members driving fancy cars and sporting fancy guns.” Gang members who steal cars are trying to achieve the social status enjoyed by mainstream society. They don't think they can contribute the society. They have so many outside forces telling them that the only thing they can ever be in a gangster, a hoodlum, a menace to society. When they are constantly told that, they begin to believe it. Once a gang has member has grown comfortable with the “fast life” it‟s hard to slow them down. Anyone who has found a way to live a luxurious life without working to hard will have a hard time giving up that way of living. In “Gangs”, Barden talks about “Once a young drug dealer has become accustomed to the so-called easy money of drug dealing, he‟s not too likely to settle down and work minimum wage” (35). Young people are always looking for the easy way out. We have been equipped with so many things like laptops and iPods that make our lives so much easier. When we are offered a way to make easy and fast money, we grab on to it. You know how kids watch advertising commercials of dolls that walk and fly all by themselves and they just have to have it even though they know the toy really doesn‟t do what the commercial says. That same idea applies to gangs. Kids watch gang members and see their fancy cars and clothes and don‟t realize that it isn‟t all what it‟s made up to be. The immediately want Robinson 13 to earn that fast money. Once they‟ve adopted the idea of fast money, like playing with that new Barbie Dream Doll, it‟s hard to play with the Raggedy Ann Doll. Kids get involved in gangs when they lack guidance. How much a parent is involved in their child‟s life, determines their involvement in gang activity. Walker claims that “However it has further expected that parenting behavior would moderate the strength of the relationship between gang involvement and delinquency and substance use.” Children and young people get involved in gangs because their parents have issues such as the usage of drugs or alcohol which in most cases causes the parents to become violent to the children and leans the child gangs. Family and friends have the greatest influence on any given child because those are the people that they spend the most time with and teach them the most things in their life. Kids follow the examples that they‟re parents set for them. Hammond argues that “Kids join the gang that their father, brother, or cousins joined before them.” Kids join gangs because their family members are members of gangs and when they are around them they are greatly influenced by their family members. If their father or mother is in a gang then the child is often brought up in a gang environment. When they are involved in gangs the often relate the gang life to their personal life because of their emotional attachment to both. Everyone wants to be accepted. “‟Money and drugs are the obvious immediate rewards‟, says William. „But there‟s another strong motivating force, and that is the desire to show family and family that they can succeed at something" (37). A lack of attention given by family and friends to a child ensiles a sense to need to succeed in life. And in most cases when there is a lack of attention, the child can only succeed in something negative and gangs are the easiest and most accessible thing in most neighborhoods so they get involved in them. Robinson 14 Works Cited American Justice: Target-Mafia. Dir. Edward Gray. DVD.1993. Barden, Renardo. Gangs. Vero Beach, Florida: The Rourke Corporation, 1990. Gerdes, Louis I., and William Dudley, eds. Gangs. New York: Greenhaven P. Incorporated. 2004. Hammond, Sarah. "Gang Busters: States Respond to Rising Gang Violence." State Legislatures. 34. 6 (June 2008): 20(2). Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Collins High School. 16 Dec. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC- Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=SRC- 1&docId=A179935586&source=gale&userGroupName=cps1880&version=1.0>. Kirkwood, R. Cort. "Border Town Violence: As Illegal Immigrants Flood the United States, a Wave of Crimes Committed by Illegals is Crashing into Border Towns and Threatening to Engulf Our Entire Nation." The New American. 22. 16 (August 7, 2006): 25(4). Student Resource Center - Gold. Gale. Collins High School. 22 Jan. 2009 <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC- Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T003&prodId=SRC- 1&docId=A149769303&source=gale&userGroupName=cps1880&version=1.0>. Levitt, Steven D., and Stephen J. Dubner. Freaknomics A Rogue Economist Explores the Hidden Side of Everything. New York: Harper Collins, 2005. Lewis, Jared. “Know Gang.” Know Gangs. 1997. 24 Oct. 2004 <http://www.knowgangs.com/> Skolnick, Jerome H. “Gangs in the Post-Industrial Ghetto.” The American Prosepect Liberal Intelligence. 30 Nov. 2002. The American Prosepect. 24 Oct 2008. Robinson 15 <http://www.prospect.org/cs/articles?article=gangs_in_the_postindustrial_ghetto>. Street Gangs: A Secret History. Prod Erik Nelson. Perf. Roger Mudd. 2001. Struyk, Ruth. "Gangs in Our Schools: Identifying Gang Indicators in Our School Population." The Clearing House. 80. 1 (Sept-Oct 2006): 11(3). Student Resource Center-Gold. Gale. Collins High School. 16 Dec. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC- Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=SRC- 1&docId=A154335529&source=gale&userGroupName=cps1880&version=1.0>. Walker-Barnes, Chanequa, and Craig A. Mason. "Delinquency and Substance Use among Gang- involved Youth: The Moderating Role of Parenting Practices." American Journal of Community Psychology. 34. 3-4 (Dec 2004): 235(16). SRCX. Gale. Collins High School. 16 Dec. 2008 <http://find.galegroup.com/srcx/infomark.do?&contentSet=IAC- Documents&type=retrieve&tabID=T002&prodId=SRC- 1&docId=A127544476&source=gale&userGroupName=cps1880&version=1.0>.
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