Gang Behavior: Addiction That Can Be Controlled?


Revenge mixed with high-stakes battles for control of drug trafficking drives most gang violence, says the Los Angeles Daily News. In a weeklong series on the problem, the paper reports that insults and confrontations–one incident leading to another–create a seemingly endless cycle of drive-by shootings and street violence that claim the lives of innocents as well as gangsters. The toughest streets in the city seem like a war zone. Gang members patrol their neighborhoods exacting “taxes” from nongang members who want to sell drugs or work as prostitutes. Addicts mingle with dealers as ordinary people try to steer clear of trouble and go about their lives without incident. “This is our war on terrorism,” said Ronald Preston, 55, an old gangster known as “Baba” who served 12 years in prison for kidnapping, robbery and attempted murder. “We face violence every day. We hear gunshots and ambulances every day. This is not arbitrary violence; there is a logic.”

Tensions between blacks and Latinos, worsening poverty, the lack of good jobs combined with the lingering effects of racism, despair, and a host of other problems create the conditions in which joining a gang often provides a sense of belonging that is otherwise lacking. “This stuff is deeply rooted … the rage is deeply within,” said Kenny Valentine, 42, a gang intervention specialist with Unity T.W.O. Inc. and former Swans member. Gangsters aren’t bound by codes of conduct that used to exist and provided some sense of orderliness. For example, the answer “Nowhere,” to the question “Where you from?” no longer is protection from a gang execution. “There’s no answer (anymore),” said Superior Court Commissioner Jack Gold. “They shoot at them anyway.” A point often missed, say experts, is that in many poor areas the gangs represent the strongest influence on children, especially boys, as they grow up. Gang leaders are looked up to and imitated. Joining a gang is a rite of passage, one that can only lead to “prison or death” without effective intervention, said Scott “Popeye” Rosengard, a veteran probation officer. “Gang behavior is an addiction … It could be controlled.”


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