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Neighbor to Neighbor: A warning to youngsters about dangers of gangs

The oft-asked question, “It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your children are,” is still pertinent. These days it’s equally important to ask, “Do you know who your children are?”

Raising a family successfully has never been easy. Every age presents challenges. We’ve all heard about the “terrible twos” and the problems of adolescence, but these days, earlier and earlier, youngsters seem to be having more of an identity crisis than ever before. Some studies point fingers at parents whose efforts in the business world may push them up the socioeconomic ladder, but leave them little time and energy to be with, talk to and really understand the sometimes fragile little beings they have brought into this world. Many do handle home life, parenting and outside careers well, of course, but all too often, some youngsters get “lost in the shuffle.”

Some have misinterpreted the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” to mean, “Now that he or she is here, I’ve done my part, the rest is up to you — whoever you are.”

Where will they go? They may see others their own age, or older, who seem to have lots of friends. They may even hear them saying things they don’t understand and they may want to learn. One thing that is proven over and over again is that people are social animals. We all want to matter to someone — to have someone care about us.

If a parent or other loving family member or trusted family friend isn’t there at some crucial time, we can only hope and pray that child is not accepted by one of the gangs that have grown, like mushrooms, in communities throughout our country and elsewhere.

Gang members have money and know where and how to get more. They are not stupid about organizing — quite the contrary. They exclude outsiders as much as possible from knowing how their very efficient communication systems work. Cell phones and beepers are no challenge, although they are surely a part of it. There are hand signals, special colors and clothing styles and key phrases such as, “What that color be like?” which means, to the “properly educated,” “What gang are you in?”

There are also code numbers (a greeting of “88” means “Heil Hitler”), and graffiti. Whenever any of that kind of vandalism occurs in your neighborhood, it should be eliminated posthaste. What sometimes seems like scrawl may be communicating messages to gang members — who is in the gang, who deals, where to meet, who died or who will die.

Every young person “hanging” on the street not be in a gang, nor want to be, but they are certainly increasing their risk of becoming involved in one, having police officers think they are a member of one or having gang members think they are from a rival gang.

Danger on the street is still very real and should be avoided at all costs. Gang members often carry lethal weapons and have sometimes been initiated by complying with an order to cut someone or commit some other kind of crime. They move up in rank in the gang the more they comply with such commands. The gangs are not as loosely run as they were years ago. Some gangs demand that youths wanting to join must fill out application forms which indicate the full names of every family member, where they work and whose demise would be most devastating to them.

Those of us who are outsiders want to warn all kids who may even have the slightest thought about joining a gang to know that once they are in you won’t be able to just walk away. Gangs are the kinds of big business that have invested in their members. Some have even received the status sought by many legitimate organizations — the not-for-profit 501 (c) (3). If you join and then try to walk away, you have put yourself and everyone you love or care about in jeopardy. With the right connections in law enforcement, you may be able to get out, but even when that is possible, to be successful, your entire family may be forced to move far way.

Be smart! Don’t start! Tell your family you need them, join positive groups like NYPD’s Law Explorers, the Boy Scouts, beacon programs or church groups. Know we care.

Reach columnist Barbara Morris by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 140.

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