Reine Duell Bethany - Author and Illustrator
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Gangs tell us more than we want to know.

For the trilogy that I am writing, I am doing ongoing research on gangs.
     Gangs have been a serious problem in Long Island for more than two decades. What gangs do we have? Various ones, including local sets (chapters) of black gangs like the Bloods and the Crips, and Hispanic gangs like MS-13. 
     Who knows that these gangs are even here? Not the residents of Roslyn and Garden City and Long Island's North Shore, and other upscale communities. 
     No, as always, the first people to become aware of gangs are those who can resist them the least: low-income people. Gangs arise in neighborhoods where the residents are economically stressed. Whatever the reasons for the stress, the results tend to be the same: family anger, blame-shifting, boredom for the children whose parents have neither the time nor the knowledge to shape their lives with healthy activities. Bored, neglected adolescents who find no fulfillment in school are easy to recruit to the companionship, excitement, and low moral demand of a gang.
     On Long Island, local police and federal agencies have successfully coordinated to get gangsters jailed, and to confine gang activity to just a few areas. But law enforcement isn't the answer. It staunches the wounds; it doesn't prevent them.
     Gang presence tells us that people feel fearful and are banding together for self-protection.  Where did MS-13 start? In California prisons, where undocumented Hispanics were harassed by domestic prisoners and formed an organization to protect themselves. Even so did the Bloods and Crips get started in poor neighborhoods in Los Angeles where the residents felt unprotected by the police.
     Gang presence also tells that the economy needs much better management. Look at Central America and Mexicao. Trade agreements with the United States and Canada began to undermine the economies of Mexico and the Central American nations.. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, as these economies  wavered, parents left their children behind and migrated to the United States in hope of sending money home. First fathers left -- and then mothers left as well, leaving small kids in care of grandparents. Without parents, children can be recruited by young gangbangers. This vicious cycle builds on itself and the influence of gangs spreads far beyond their original beginnings.
     I'm not saying that law enforcement is not needed -- it is. But we as a society have to consider the precursors to the problem of gang growth. Wherever people feel deprived and neglected, gangs arise. The response has to be societal, not merely reactive.

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