Monday, January 13, 2014

Desperate Cries: Experiencing America's Gang Problem

A lot of local politicians would  like to tell you there is no real gang problem developing in the inner cities and suburbs of America.  The reality is the contrary; as a 90's baby recessions always seemed to come and go, and people always seemed to find themselves a little desperate to make a living.  The lines between right and wrong (legal and illegal) are not so important when there are no easy to gain jobs readily for "criminals" (and we all know everyone who has done time is not bad). We are the leading nation in prison per capita; 1 in 130 Americans have been or are in prison currently.  These statistics are easily searched engined, but they tend to not be so-common-knowledge.  The information may not be entirely accurate due to illegal immigrants.  However, they provide disturbing social-cultural realities of America.  We have a large number of prisoners that need jobs when they are released. Gangs will take a criminal record as a resume, businesses background check for any little offense! A vicious cycle of gangs, violence and unregulated drugs is happening all over areas like New Jersey.
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Growing up in suburbia, witnessing gang activity, and associating [unknowingly] with prospects and members of local gangs, was nothing abnormal for my Middle School career. Crazy enough, it was easy to find places providing "fun" (drugs, mischief and parties) even for a pasty white kid like me.  Everyone in my school was either drinking or smoking pot (rarely anything more extreme), and since I wanted to hang out with at least a few new people, I would end up smoking marijuana myself a few times during my two years attending my town's Middle School.  I tried to be where the fun was happening and to keep up with the gossip of where to keep distance from.  If there was an open house, that meant no-adults and really that just meant "open-season" for the these social groups of kids.

'You can now picture me (one of the few non-Hispanics) in a small two floor house that is steadily increasing by 20+ people every half hour!'

'Dance floor was where anyone COULD dance, alcohol had no designated area (finder-keepers rules), and everyone speaking a mixture of Spanish and Slang-English.'

The majority of the people I spent having fun with were of Hispanic and Spanish ethnicity. The way I met so many members/prospects was friends of friends of friends (family of friends of friends, friends of family of friends, etc, etc.)... was at house parties like these. Until ultimately nearly everyone who grouped around me in this house, and I had now become very social with individuals whom have been known to be officiates of gangs. I didn't think these kids were bad, because all kids are not who they behind closed doors nor when they are in the public eye.  Kids are just impressionable, they follow the examples of the people who raised them and who educated them.. Some were genuinely smart and clever, some weren't.  Some were athletic; some had a chance for a future...

- What I learned from attending these parties, I remind you these kids were 12 - 15 years old, was 'self-image' is very important to people.  During the parties, at that age, I thought kids would grow out of caring about what other people thought... But I seen more fist fights over a guy 'kinda talking smack' about another than at any other point in my life, but the girls were way more vicious. Their fights were like entertainment to the guys, who would then become professional boxing coaches all of a sudden.

- I also learned how to dance salsa, merengue & bachata! 
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I cannot ever say I was an angel, but in no way was I interested in any type of organized gang activity, but... I did have my moments of being a little criminal. 

After school events tended to have a pattern to them; leave, walk towards home, pass 'the' convenience store (where my friend Josh was notorious for stealing Full Throttle energy drinks, it was impressive because they were the 'tall boy' cans], and then usually witnessing and/or performing an [additional] criminal act; they would vary from petty acts like knocking over trash cans to a little bit more vicious like breaking a car light.  I mean what's fun is fun, right? Until you got caught. People getting pinched, ratted on, and dumb enough to get caught was a common occurrence in my Middle School. The vice principal would come to the class and escort you to the office to make you didn't walk out of the building before they got a chance to talk to you and/or pact you down.  I never took that, but I imagine it's a little heart wrenching. But after school, there was no limits! My friends and I, although I make us sound like misfits, usually ended up playing Basketball or video games at a mutual friends place. To be honest, I tried to stay with the clean-cut and stay-out-of-trouble kids at the end of the day.  After hours is when "fun" time became something not so fun.

I would never have joined any gang, and I was offered.  I even learned the process, and witnessed trials for other kids.  A lot of them didn't trust me because I was white, but I never went anywhere without my friend who had "rep" with everyone; you can call him Galo. After a while, I became careless with those groups of people; I would venture to parties alone and hang-out spots without my highly reputable friends.  Usually I was fine, sometimes a fight, but nothing serious (like going to the hospital). Until that one afternoon on Halloween's Eve.

You see in my Northern New Jersey demographic, on Halloween Eve, there were gang initiation nights for the prospects looking to join their desired gangs.  The task a few years ago (about 2009) was following women in their cars until they stopped, and killing them.  Apparently this is "common knowledge" among the group I was associated with, so it was never brought up. That Halloween Eve would be a party anyways, so fear never was an issue - they new members would most likely end up to one of the few locations for celebration.  This knowledge was not known to me at all, until I learned first handed, and then it was too late to avoid it.

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- Belleville-Newark, New Jersey - October 30, 2005

I'm walking out of school and it was odd all my friends didn't want to hang out; usually they would want to grab a dutch (cigar wrap) and smoke before they went home to eat and change for the nightlife.  It was whatever; I wanted to go bike riding to the park and around my town anyways.  Getting home, ate a little, got money and grabbed my knife (it was a nervous kid precaution developed from my experience of a "D-Block" which was me getting hit so hard as to be aware I would was being robbed until I saw them running away with my wallet).

"Going to a friend's house, love you guys" I yelled leaving my house.

My bike was my obvious primary mode of transportation. I had a skateboard around but never got into have to kick and push a thousand times to get no where fast!

I left my driveway riding my all-black bike through my town of Belleville, I headed towards the bridge for a hot dog off the truck (I remember I didn't like what was for dinner).  The truck was located on the bridge that gaps Newark and Belleville.  I also remember because someone almost hit me on my way over there! I ate two with hot onions and then decided to take an alternative route back towards the general direction of my house.  Instead of staying to the main streets and school areas, I wanted to go up and around towards Bloomfield and Nutley.

So there I am cruising down the street and saw there were a hand full of kids no older than me around a 'boom-box' hanging out, sharing a can of beer.  They were actually dressed very nicely for standing on that particular street corner - I mean their shoes must of been worth at least a hundred bucks.  Two were black, three were brown, and there seemed to be some white kids (but had a darker complexion), but I do not remember the group exactly.  I didn't recognize who they were, and today I still have no clue.  Anyways, as I road by slow, just nosily trying to see what was happening, before I could fully cognate it... they began to chase me!

On my bike I was not going to get caught from a bunch of kids running! I had to cut through the park to make sure I didn't go deeper into Newark and would at least stay in my town.  Riding on grass tires you out quickly so I looked for an area I could leave my bike for a little while and just walk home and be less noticeable.  I road 3-4 blocks away, and stopped in a household community to catch my breathe. I left my bike in a garbage-alley (the gap in between two of the houses for garbage) and began to walk where I could slow my breathing down.  Tried to look and walk and think casually; 'everything is going to be okay' I repeated in my head.

In a mix of scared, tired and excited, I called my boy for a house to hang out nearby, no answer.  I decided to head to an acquaintance's house.  I hate helped him clean up his house after a party and helped calm down a few loud people from screaming.  As I took a right on a corner near our town's golf course I am still only trying to control my breathing.  It was rough being a semi-chubby kid who's only sport was video games and casual sports with friends! I heard two Spanish kids talk behind me for a block or two, I didn't want to think nor thought they were from the original pursuit.  But to be honest, I didn't look at their faces. Too busy haling ass.

Then as I hear the foot stomps of sloppy running I realize the situation quick, I was about to be hit.  This being nothing new to me, I been hit before, but they were always 1 on 1, thus somewhat far.  2 on 1 would of been rough, even with the knife in my pocket. Even with confidence, confrontations of this degree are better avoided than taken head on.  I ran, but this time in flat skater shoes that have no arch.  Pain started quickly, my mind was on controlling my breath, 'in the nose out of the mouth' I repeated in my mind.  I jumped a fence but they were able to follow me, but I was able to gain a good half of block distance, I finally got some of a relief (just a little further).  Just then I was cut off by the two black kids from earlier...

They said "Stop! Or we WILL beat you down" I complied.

The other two caught up and made me feel slightly better for a moment as they were REALLY out of breath. I noticed at least two of the four went to my school and the others were in fact at least 4 to 5 years older. I was shit scared.

After everyone caught their breath - which was mutually needed - the oldest black kid said "This kid needs to fight you" pointing to one of my Latino pursuers and he continued "We're here to make sure no one interrupts until it's over." In my head I was hoping for a miracle, but I was on a dead-end street, in an already not-so-busy area of my town, only one car had pass us this entire time - so no help from random predestines was coming..

I was then mentally prepping to get hit and possibly get beaten up (I didn't trust they would not interfere, but also didn't think they would without reason). At this point, I was kinda just angry and my youthful arrogance got the better of me - like a rat in a corner.  I didn't speak to them, I stood back with my hand near the pocket holding my hunting-style knife.  I was thinking it would scare him away from fighting me and would back down from the initiation process. That was until he wiped out a knife of his own and my eye lit up.  I began sweating bullets, this was no movie scene, this shit was for real.  He walked towards me cautiously, a little timidly.

"Don't kill him, just fuck him up" said the second black kid, who had a full beard.

As the seemingly brave kid stepped forward he took a swing at me with the knife, but I jumped back, and it was clear he wasn't as nervous as I thought.  At this point I reached in my pocket and flipped my open.  I saw the fear from before become more solidified in his eyes.

"Oh shit, looks like we picked a wild one, that's a big knife" they laughed together while their prospect began to sweat. 'How evil' I thought.

I tried to show confidence, and so did he, I asked "Is it worth it?" after a second of an eon passed he angrily mumbled "You don't even know."

He lunged forward, I stepped back and sideways, as he stepped back I walked back a few steps to give space and I was stalling... I didn't want to get hurt or hurt anyone else.  I was hoping for the fucking miracle.

Apparently, this just made him more angry, and he ran forward at me which made me sprint in the opposite direction.  Feeling him, sensing him, get closer I turned around as quickly as possible like I had a fencing sword and lunged straight forward in a defensive manner.  He stopped running and didn't get even close to the tip of my knife.  He lunged again but this time he pierced my left arm (there wasn't instant pain, the shock in my body and the adrenaline was too high) and then he pulled it out.

After another second of an eon of staring and holding the gash in my arm, it began to hurt after the second second.... It hurt a lot, but now I was furious. I remember feeling as if his anger was dissolving after he stabbed me, but whether it was fear or regret or relief that took it's place - I didn't care at that moment.  I took this chance of his relaxation and my aggravation to charge:

**What I was experiencing had only been known to me through television series and movies, and it is intense how we just watch them without realizing where inspiration might of came from.**

Like an action scene, I hit his armed right hand outwards with my bleeding forearm, and drove my knife into his thigh.  His friends got to us by the time I had pulled my knife out and started running towards my home.  They didn't chase me this time... In a panic I threw my knife away in a gutter...

I kept my arm hidden from everyone (wore long sleeve shirts), even from my friends (to not be identified by any gang members), and eventually got my garbage covered bike back... And a series of fearful memories for a life time...

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Today, I am not proud of this event, and being afraid to leave my house for weeks is not a great sensation to experience.  I watched a million movies for a couple of weeks, school and T.V were I would schedule, with some friends coming over, once in a while.  The image of blood pouring out of my open wound, recalling the hard steel making contact with my bone - all came more vivid after the event, after it was all done.  I would never want to experience it again, nor would I wish it upon my greatest enemy.  But, would I change it? Would I want to delete those memories from my mind? No, of course not. 

While I am disturbed by how this event was possible, at the same time I'm glad I experienced it.

That night when I was wrapping my arm and putting peroxide on it, I felt alive, I felt human, I felt how fragile we all really are, and I also thought (and today think about) how it has to take an extreme experience like that in order for us to feel this way.  It made me appreciate everything I had, and forced out of the delusional privileged mindset I had - granted only 14 years old when it happened. Being in my room for those few days a lot of thoughts came in my head: I hated them, wanted them dead for putting me through such fear, but after all of those emotions lifts and realized 'they were going to that to any kid they saw, I was just the unlucky choice, and at least I was prepared..' and also, crazy enough, hoped I didn't cripple the kids leg by hitting anything vital.. I got over all of it in time.

As awful as it is to consider, this type of activity, these gang initiations for young kids are still happening today, and are not likely to stop any time soon. 

While I got my awareness of exactly how bad the gang problem is in the inner cities of America. There are easily other routes to be aware of the gang violence that occurs in highly populated areas of the country - and I don't think we should wait for news outlets to just make us afraid of them, but to change the system so they don't have to be "them" but a part of everyone else.

Kind of sickening our culture hides these real problems away underneath and behind 'foreign issues' while if we were made aware of them, we wouldn't need to get stabbed to understand how severely bad of a problem they are!

You do not know anything until you face the consequences, even if your actions were small or nonexistent.  Sometimes you have to expect the unexpected.  A hard rationalization to conquer, but it was one I faced early. Today I feel fearless in the face of confrontation with others, I mean unless they have a knife on them too... No, stop, I am only kidding! After that day I never carried a knife on my again! I really understood "Those who live by the sword die by sword" all the better.  I just avoided all these areas in general, stopped hanging with those social circles and going to their parties, AND especially didn't do nearly as much mischief afterwards (I was always going directly home!).

I do wish the kid I harm all the best, and hope he is no longer in a gang and not in prison, not dead and living a good life.

But I wish more people will realize gangs will not go away from the threat of prison or charges, they can only go away in a system that gives second chances, that promotes job creation for uneducated citizens, that allows more after school activities to be funded on the taxed dollar.  The issue of gangs is not an isolated issue, and to think it doesn't effect you is ignorant (especially if you have ever used drugs - who do you think controls the market in the cities of New Jersey?).

If getting stabbed had any positive results, it was waking up in the matrix built by cultural short-sightedness.  The most negative, is realizing most won't wake up without witnessing or experiencing these great social-evils, first-handed. And if it takes upper-middle class and rich people to get stabbed before they protest and campaign for change, than these issues are not going away, any time soon.

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