Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Well-Meaning vs. Well-Aimed: (part 1) The Anti-Gang Message

Looking at our messages to at-risk youth, based on my investigations so far: We're walking without brains; we're leading with weakness. We'll never win like this.

Example: It's rude, I apologize, I find it necessary to say anyway.

In Crips v. Bloods, part 1, the documentary I found shows former/inactive gang members working as anti-gang counselors to new or potential gang members. The strategy means these gentleman hang around and participate with the kids at a Neighborhood Center.

I don't call into question their sincerity, or the sincerity of their employers. But this approach seems to me as fragile as an eggshell.

These counselors are saying the gang didn't work for them, and gave them a harder life. They lived through decades on the streets; they succeeded in surviving prison. But quite frankly, they don't look successful at anything else. Are they employed there solely as a terrible warning? If so, is that the crowning punishment of their life?

Who is going to listen to a self-professed loser?  What teenager believes he will get old? (Why would he want to?) How is hanging out with someone who made bad choices going to help a youth make good choices?

They have to offer an alternative, and these men can't even offer a good game of one-on-one.

That said, I wouldn't shove them aside. The real value of these gentlemen is as interpreters and teachers of those who don't understand gangs and gang activity. They cement alliances or transfer information about the neighborhood (not primarily social causes, but nuts and bolts). That would mean they educate the interlopers:  law enforcement, teachers, social services professionals and any business leaders who want to locate in their area.

Law enforcement, social services, and business leaders would have to value them as "fixers". (Something higher than a "snitch" or a "horrible warning".) And they would have to be able to wield that power in the neighborhood. No interloper can confer that value on someone who has no personal power left. So you have to get the right guy.

In this program, the unspoken messages have killed the stated message. Of course, I'm not there. But that's how it reads. We mean well. You know what they say about the road to hell.


Slamdunk said...

I had not thought of that Ann T--the impact of these role models on the young kids. I think these recovered gang members have value and a place, but should be viewed as a component in an overall plan as opposed to the one workable piece.

Related to your previous poem, I appreciate your research efforts (for summer stuff). The snow is headed our way, but the sun is currently shining.

Ann T. said...

Dear Slamdunk,
I don't think these guys are having any impact on those kids at all, good or bad. They're set up to fail, and so is the project in the neighborhood center.

Somehow, we have to do better.

Capt. Schmoe said...

I am not sure that this is a solvable problem. Maybe isolated individual cases can be helped / prevented, but as a cultural problem, I am not sure.

We dump millions of dollars in to gang prevention programs. Some run by "outsiders" - meaning well intentioned white liberals who believe money and time can cure anything. Others by local community activists who use the commonality of culture to try persuade kids that gang life is not the answer. Neither seems to produce widespread results.

As long as that lifestyle is culturally acceptable by the in-close community, I don't think we as outsiders will have any effect.

My solutions would be considered draconian at best and fascist at worst. Don't elect me king.

Thanks for the post Ann T. As always, thought provoking.

Ann T. said...

Dear Captain Schmoe,
I agree that the well-intentioned "outsiders" have to reform--who put this program together, anyway?

I have more coming--mostly I see this as a waste of human capital, because people have been given the wrong job description. Because "Looking Like" we're doing something fulfills one requirement, and we can blame the people it's intended for when it doesn't work.

"We gave them a neighborhood center, but they didn't appreciate it." Puts it all back on them, when the strategy was at fault.

It's the same thing those soldiers are talking about in Afghanistan. CYA over results.

Thanks for writing in. As always, I appreciate your thoughtful feedback.

Ann T.