Scholars, sociologists and policymakers are missing a big part of the equation when trying to find solutions to youth and gang violence, argues Jim Allen, a West Side community activist and organizer of a community forum last Saturday to address the issue.
Allen insists that the dialogue on ending youth violence cannot happen unless the gangs themselves are at the table.
“You have to deal with the ‘People’ and the ‘Folks’ in order to deal with some of this violence,” he said. “You can bring in as many doctors degrees if you want [but] if they never been in this … then they don’t understand the culture of what drives one to join a gang.”
Allen hosted a panel discussion Saturday at the Garfield Park Gold Dome, 100 N. Central Park, featuring activists who contend that there are no easy answers to solving urban violence.
Allen, though, stressed tapping into the knowledge of ex-offenders and ex-gang members who were part of the violence. Doing so, he maintained, can break the cycle of violence. Former gang members, he noted, are in the community trying to stop the violence and may have the solutions to offer.
While not condoning violence committed by gangs, Allen noted that some in their heyday did do some positive things for the community. But when older gang leaders were locked up, the gangs took a negative turn, explained Allen; especially when drugs and guns came into urban communities.
But Walli Muhammad of the Nation of Islam said parents bear responsibility in deterring violence. He added that youth take social cues from their parents’ behavior.
“We have to stop advocating violence with our mouths, parents. We are the main progenitors of violence of how we speak to our children,” he said. “You can go outside everyday and watch a young sister cuss a baby out-that is the start of violence.”
Parents, he added, must instill in their children “self-love and self-awareness…not just from an African perspective, but from God.”
Deterring violence is also simple economics, said community activist Harold Davis, of Amer-I-Can, a community group. Davis argues that gangbanging and illegal activity are the result of blacks not controlling economic development in their own communities.
“Until we are able to produce opportunity, you can’t say ‘up with hope, down with dope.’ Hope has to have a connection with opportunity,” Davis said. “If you just telling me to have hope, and I don’t see any opportunity, hope doesn’t mean nothing to me.”
Ashante Moore, 48, has an inside glimpse of gang life. As a youth, Moore became a member of the Black Disciples and cycled in and out of jail. Realizing that gang life was not what he thought it would be, he began to turn his life around through boxing. Now he teaches the sport at Trumball Park on the city’s South Side. Moore, though, sees most of his boys joining gangs out of peer pressure.
“They are afraid to be alone. The need protection,” said the resident of Avalon Park-Moore added that such insecurity stems from black boys not having a father in their lives, which makes them “easy prey” for gang recruitment.
“There is over a million black men in jail,” he said. “We got a million black kids out here not being attended to. They ain’t getting no love, no affection; and then they see their mommas with three or four different guys. That is messing with these little boys.”
According to Moore, ending violence means getting more black men to be responsible for their children. He noted that the parents of one his boxing students have never come to see him fight.
“They can pass gun laws, they can give out jobs…As long as black men don’t stand up and take care of their responsibility,” Moore insists, “this (violence) ain’t ever going to change. It ain’t going to change.”