Gang violence has been something that has been galvanizing the black community for decades. The statistics are alarming and the personal stories are heartbreaking yet the pervasiveness of gangs hasn’t lessened. According to a 2011 report from the National Gang Threat Assessment (NGTA), there are estimated to be over 1 million active street gang members affiliated with more than 33,000 gangs. The report also cited gangs as responsible for 48 percent of violent crime in some areas and up to 90 percent in other areas.
According to a piece by The Grio, gangs are even targeting children as young as 8.
“In Los Angeles we have multi-generational gangs, with kids growing up in gang families,” says Brian Center, director of A Better LA, an organization dedicated to end violence on LA Streets. “We also see gang members recruiting kids who are around 8-years-old. It’s only when they are teenagers that we really start to see the violence.”
The racial makeup of gangs is also changing, with the NGTA reporting an increase in gang members of continental African, Asian, Eurasian, Caribbean, and Middle Eastern descent.
Law enforcement and community organizations have been working hard to combat gang violence but they have met some challenges. One issue is the lack of witnesses willing to testify against gang members because they fear retaliation.
“When it’s a crime in our community it’s brushed under the carpet and no one seems to care,” Diane Harrell, whose son was murdered by gang violence six years ago, told The Grio.
There has also been a growing number of “hybrid” gangs with multiple affiliations that constantly migrate, making it hard for police to track them.
Community workers are also looking at the motivation kids have for joining gangs. “A lot of people look at what they are running to but we look at what they are running from,” said Skip Townsend, executive director of 2nd Call, an organization that works with at-risk youth and felons. “It’s a lack of something, like they could be running from a dysfunctional home.”
Bruce Ferrell, president of the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, says there are signs parents can look for if they suspect their children might be involved with a gang. “Some of the early signs that kids have joined gangs are signs or symbols parents haven’t seen before, changes in behavior at home or in school, becoming more secretive and starting to wear specific colors,” he warns. “Parents can protect their children by being involved in their activities and making sure they have positive role models to keep them out of gangs.”