Gang prevention at a young age

Photo of Jakell Watts, 12, as he graduated from OPD’s gang-prevention program. By Jane Tyska/Staff

I’ve probably interviewed more than a thousand people in the last seven years. A handful of those conversations, details and faces have stuck with me, as others have faded away. A long conversation I had this month with a group of fifth-grade boys about bullying and gangs, I’m very sure, will be one of those.

When I asked these boys what they learned in their gang-prevention program for a story published today, they responded with statements like: “that gangs are bad,” and “gangs can get you killed.”

But you must have known that already, I said. What did you learn?

They looked at each other, then at me. But they hadn’t known that, they said. They said they had thought the opposite was true — that they’d gain protection and freedom from harrassment and bullying (which they, themselves, had inflicted on others in the past). That they’d no longer get jumped on their way home from school.

The boys said they weren’t in gangs, and that they wouldn’t join because of what they had learned in the GREAT program. But they said that a handful of their classmates, some of those who graduated from the gang prevention program, seemed to be involved already. They also said they expected bullying to intensify once they reach middle school in the fall.

When I asked when they thought gang prevention should start in schools, they responded in unison: “kindergarten.”

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • Susan Sherrell

    Thank you for this to the point article. I am a nurse at Fruitvale, where this program was provided this year for fourth and fifth graders. I learned more than I ever wanted to know about gangs recently, when a boy I’d known since birth becomae involved in one in southern California. How did this happen ? Both his family and I were in shock that this loving child felt a need for gang protection, that his middle school years were shaped by the harsh and secret reality of gang life. Everything we can do we must do to help our children stand up and deal wisely with the numerous pitfalls that lie in wait for them .

  • Nextset

    We need to watch our reality here. Gangs exist and are popular because there are very good reasons for joining them and remaining in them.

    They will continue to grow and enjoy turnaway applicants as long as they provide value to their membership. You can no more tell people, kids, adults, girls.. not to join a gang than you can tell people “Just Say No to Drugs” and have it mean anything. Everything that people do was because they had a good enough reason for it at the time.

    Like the “senseless shooting” thread, I’m afraid many people say whever makes them feel good about a problem emotionally rather than looking at the reality.

    Read http://www.globalguerrillas.com , spend some time covering the subject of what happens when the state and state authority (or any other) hollows out. Now understand what is happening here and why people like me are so afraid of how life will be in a superinflation.

    As the government (or any authority) becomes ineffectual – ineffectual in providing law and order, providing power and water, or providing any other needed thing, people always seek other providers. This is true especially if the downside of such associations are not a big problem.

    When the family is non-functional (thanks to government tax & welfare policy) children can use gangs to get structure and security – both of which they can’t get at OUSD. If a prison is chaotic, joining a gang provides required security and structure. The same math works if you are thinking about joining a union, a professional association, Tony Soprano’s private club, or Rotary.

    The more we “educate” kids on not using drugs, having sex, joining gangs, or anything else in the absence of providing the needed supports/discouragements the more we facilitate the membership.

    If the USA falls into superinflation government and government authority will cease to function (like conditions in Katrina). We will have all kinds of “gangs” becoming active and more ruthless. Some will wear uniforms.

    I wish the cops well here. What they are doing, by itself, simply cannot work. And if you think things are bad now, just give it another 12 months of budget and service cuts – especially the cuts contemplated in education services. I think we are wasteful with our education budgets, but I know that the shutdowns I hear coming down the pike will improve the gangs’ hands as the game in town.

    Maybe we should keep funding for the afterschool activities. Maybe we should bring back the draft.. If we want to shop the growth of gang membership (which I question we actually do) we have to establish reasons not to need them. We are doing the opposite.

  • Nextset

    I’m waiting for my critics to claim I’m in favor of Gangs…

  • John

    “Now understand what is happening here and why people like me are so afraid of how life will be in a super inflation.” Couple that with Cap & Trade & other
    barb wire being strung to contain the national herd while emptying their fast inflating wallets and we have a crystal ball full of anarchy.

    Nextset: You’ve previously referenced the post WWI German Weimar Republic where hyper-inflation reigned and government and corporations benefited (temporarily) while citizens suffered. I dam well know where we’re headed and admire your willingness to
    continue warning those who won’t listen and malign your efforts.

    The only (selfish) advantage for those who see what’s coming is the opportunity it provides them to take certain actions now before the impact of overwhelming circumstances has the herd stampeding in the same direction causing resources to evaporate while contemporary brown shirts (in the absent of blue shirts) make their presence sorely felt.

    We’ll gotta go. I’m still doing a lot of packing and making personal economic changes in response to our ever changing progressive regressive times, leading to a time when all will come to know that false solutions for real problems are false solutions. A tsunami’s coming! Don’t forget the guitar, marshmallows, and Kumbaya lyrics for the beach party.

    “The social safety nets are breaking and the social containment nets are being constructed” (whispers the spider to the spiders about the flies).

    I suspect many of today’s rhetorically brave “social justice” warriors won’t be so brave when they take up involuntary residence in the Brave New World they’re unwittingly helping create!

  • aly

    i’m not sure if any social justice worker worth their weight would disagree with nextset’s assessment. of course you’re not pro-gang. i am actually really skeptical of anti-gang/drug/anything organizations that tell kids not to do something, but don’t do much to address the issues that cause kids to join to begin with. i have worked with CYO case managers for the last two years and appreciate the fact that they attempt to help students learn skills and obtain resources that make gangs a lot less appealing.

    the other issue that this early education and groups like CYO are relatively ineffective against are generational gang members. if my students are raised by a sureno family, i am going to sound pretty stupid trying to convince them about why it is a bad decision. it would be like trying to convince raised in a christian household to become an atheist. there is just not a lot we can do if the parents are the problem to begin with, and it is more common than i like thinking about.

  • aly

    bah- “it would be like trying to convince *a child* raised in christian household to be an atheist.” sorry for the typo.

  • Pingback: » Obviously Virginia Griffey’s Blog()

  • Pingback: Obviously « Journalism Training Blog()