The scientific research deals with the problem of school gangs. The first section of the paper gives insight into the state of affairs in the American school system and the criminogenic nature of educational establishments, with statistics provided reflecting major social trends. The second section considers the rationales behind schoolchildren’s gang affiliation. The third part of the project provides the analysis of preventive measures and their implications. The opinions of prominent philosophy doctors and journalists constitute the backbone of the research paper.
Keywords: school, gang, affiliation, students, rationale, measures
Besides giving profound knowledge of multiple subjects, schools cultivate cultural norms, humanism, altruism, and spirituality in young students. Though raised entertaining love for other people, not all children follow that direction. Exposure to popular culture may and does lead a good many children to grow misanthropic. Popular culture in movies, television shows, commercials, and computer games, that overexpose violence, harassment, or an undisguised sexuality, bares or intensifies children’s instincts and innermost desires to rise above peers in order to win recognition and garner popularity among schoolfellows. Whether single-handedly or through participation in school gangs, children look to establish themselves at the expense of innocent victims who sustain physical and moral damage.
Juvenile gangs differ nothing from their adult counterparts in the sense that they use the same tools of eliciting financial gains or establishing their dominance. Just as traditional adult criminal groups pose danger to the society, so too does students asocial activity endangers school microclimate and peers’ physical and moral wellbeing. The 20-year-plus conjuncture suggests that the criminogenic situation has not changed, with different racial groups of students reporting gangs’ presence. There are rationales behind children’s decision of joining the ranks of school gangs, which help elaborate the approaches to eradicating criminal groups from educational establishments. American school administrations are doing their utmost to curb the growth of gangs at schools by introducing preventive measures and having the authorities enact legislation.
According to Estrada, Gilreath, Astor, and Benbenischty (2013), middle schools are an important developmental environment that shapes adolescent behavior; still, students may be prone to victimization and vulnerable to risky peers, while attending schools where gangs are the case. Robers, Zhang, and Snyder (2010) stated that the National Crime Victimization Survey conducted in 2007 had showed that from 15% to 21% of schoolchildren reported the presence of criminal groups. It is worth noting that the ratio of male students’ reporting about gang activity was 25%, as against 21% of female students (as cited in Estrada, Gilreath, Astor, and Benbenischty, 2013). The tendency is indicative of the fact that boys experience abuse inflicted by school gangs at a higher rate than girls do. As per a survey conducted in 2004-2005, about 24% of students throughout the USA reported gang activity in their respective schools. The results demonstrated the rate had increased by 3% over the mentioned period, as against 2003. During the two-year timeframe, school violence claimed the lives of 21 schoolchildren (Teen Gangs, 2009). The US Department of Education (1998) claimed that schools disciplinarians and principals had reported about 10 cases of crime per 1000 educational establishments. Out of 10 cases, 9.5 were described as being nonviolent delinquencies while the remaining 0.5 involved suicide, murder, fighting with a weapon, and assault and battery, including sexual assault, and rape. Fights without weapon and physical attacks were among the most widespread crimes (as cited in Thompkins, 2000).
Kaufman, Chen, Choy, Chander, Chapman, Rand, and Ringel (1998) stated that, in 1996 alone, there had been about 225.000 students aged between 12 and 18 victimized during the incidents of nonfatal delinquencies. As many as 671.000 cases were reported beyond school campus (as cited in Thompkins, 2000). The most palpable change in the period between 1989 and 1995 was the reported presence of gang activity or gangs on the territory of school campuses. In 1995, the percentage of schools attendees’ reporting the presence of such rose 14.2% up on 1989 when it did not exceed 16.4%. As far as the attendees of private schools are concerned, the number of those reporting increased almost by half as much again from 4.4% to 6.8% over the comparable period. Interviews have demonstrated family income and ethnicity variables. Of all ethnic groups, Hispanic schoolchildren reported the highest incidence of gang activity in the timeframe between 1989 and 1995. Children stemming from families other than low income reported about gangs’ intensification less often. As of 1995, the rate of students who lived in rural and suburban regions increased by 155% and 88% respectively, as opposed to their peers from central areas, whose percentage rose by 64%. Teachers and students’ filtering certain incidents to diminish resonance and cushion the effects of bad publicity is the reason school administration underrepresents actual figures. More than that, societal reaction to gang activity may show cultural stereotype or fear rather than the actual extent of crime proliferation (Thompkins, 2000).
Associate Professor Ivory Toldson and Doctoral Student Eder Lemus (2012) provided the statistical information on school gangs’ violence in the second half of the 2000s. Dinkes, Kemp, and Baum (2009) stated that 23% of American students reported about school gangs in the 2007-2008 educational year, with 43 students killed and 1.5 million affected during nonfatal crimes. About 38% of black American students and 36% of Hispanic children tended to report gang presence, as compared with white and Asian schoolchildren, 16% and 17% of whom reported about the criminal trends (as cited in Toldson and Lemus, 2012). The situation does not seem to have changed over the past few decades, with European Americans noticing the gang presence at schools, unlike their Asian, Latino, and black fellows. It is highly unlikely that white students do not contribute their knowledge to the overall statistics owing to their fellows’-in-ethnicity committing the better part of gang-related crimes. There is the slight possibility of school personnel condoning their petty delinquencies for of producing a social resonance since white American still enjoy better employment privileges and quicker social standing rise, which may rationalize the reason white children’s gang participation and crimes may be left unreported.
Rationales behind Schoolchildren’s Gang Affiliation
Burnett (1999) suggested there were different reason that motivate children to join school gangs. Such organizations are capable of reacting to students’ needs that remain unmet. Gangs may provide young people with the sense of acceptance and family they utterly under-receive in their lives. Recent immigrants may form some school bands in attempts to preserve a strong ethnic identity. According to William Gladden Foundation (1992), there were four principal factors in juvenile gangs’ formation. The lack of conventional support structures, such as school and family, make children feel powerless and alienated, which may render them frustrated and angry. Hence, they may seek support beyond conventional albeit illegal institutions. The source of identity and the sense of belonging are what such organization has to offer. Membership creates the feeling of control and power, with gang activities becoming a perfect outlet for fury and rage. The third factor comes in the shape of a turf, a controllable territory, over which the gang exerts its influence by applying force. School gangs draw neophytes into their organization forasmuch as they are in need of new members if they are willing to retain and expand territory (Burnett, 1999). The sense of territorial control may be itself become a strong motivator for children with inferiority complex or post-insult revanchist sentiments.
Issurdatt (2011) noted that young people of whatever cultural and socio-economic backgrounds could get involved in school gangs. Though varying among bands, reasons are mostly economic and social. According to National School Safety and Security Services (2011), security, power status, friendship, economic profit, family replacement, and substance use influences are the main reasons of joining school gangs (as cited in Issurdatt, 2011). National Center for Victims of Crime (2011) suggested that the criminal affiliation provided advantages, besides obvious sacrifices and risks. Schoolchildren who feel disengaged, isolated, socially excluded by peers, misunderstood by family members, and unsafe from physical abuse and harassment inflicted by peers are likely to seek comfort and protection in such gangs. In addition, children with a history of substance use and economic challenges may connect with resources via gangs (as cited in Issurdatt, 2011). Interestingly, the social and educational phenomenon of school gangs is anything but new, which questions the assumption of mass media having a decisive influence on young individuals. Howell (1998) claimed that gang activity and gangs have been a part of the educational picture ever since the 19th century (as cited in Thompkins, 2000).
Preventive Measures and Their Implications
Analyzing the problem of gangs and the culture of fear cultivated by excessive preventive countermeasures, Thompkins (2000) stated that media coverage of separate acts of brutality perpetrated by students on school property had raised questions as to school violence. Not only that, but also reports about high rates of school violence contrary to the overall decrease in crime levels along with a series of high-profile, resounding criminal cases culminated in a preventive safety reaction. American Congress enacted a number of legislative initiatives to decrease the incidence of school violence. In response to violence in both rural and suburban areas, that had caused massive death toll among students and school personnel, school administrations elaborated safe-school plans, which, unfortunately, underestimate the issue and overemphasize security. Such safety precautions do work at schools in urban communities, with crime levels being high. Of course, they do a lot to keep strangers off campus. There is no saying that such measures would have prevented a school shooting in Jonesboro, Arkansas, or the Columbine Massacre in 1998 and 1999 respectively if they had been in place back there and then (Thompkins, 2000).
Who arranged both shootouts was a couple of school students, not a lone lunatic killer. Burke (1999) noted that those who arranged the Columbine Massacre were a self-professed gang referred to as “Trench Coat Mafia.” Though lacking for a well-structured organization, both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, were the members of a juvenile group embracing alternative or gothic culture (Burke, 1999). Despite the lack of organizations, evident leadership, territorial influence, and the involvement in traditional criminal activities, the group did espouse a certain ideological doctrine, applied violence, committed murder jointly, as well as being a group of close friends. Hence, it follows from this that “Trench Coat Mafia” was a genuine two-member school gang, though underdeveloped. It is illogical to expect a juvenile group to have a solid structure and hierarchy like that of adults does due to a full access to weapons, whether illicit or not, and maturity to enter into the underworld and rival with opposing gangs. Hence, at the school level, the Columbine killers are similar to school gangs.
As appears from the above, security measures might not have averted the tragedy. According to Thompkins (2000), what security measures might do is protect schools from lawsuits filed by parents whose children have become the targets of victimization. The worst-case scenario is that such excessive safety approaches are likely to subvert the education process since school may create the impression of a detention center. Rather than address and tackle the problem of violence, such measures only camouflage obvious flaws and shortcomings and produce the illusions of safety. School administrations need to weigh the possible outcomes of security, such as enhanced fear, privacy invasion, and the subversion of the educational mission owing to the presence of concealed surveillance cameras, metal detectors, explosive- and drug-sniffing dogs, and identity tags. Much as security measures have worked in certain communities, they have failed to address the overall situation.
Worse, they have generated the culture of fear among other students forasmuch as metal detectors, security officers, and surveillance cameras, apart from deterring potential law offenders from committing an act of violence, instill fear into other students and teachers as much as saturation media coverage of school brutality does. In the wake of the Colorado Massacre, school officials came to forbid wearing black trench coats on the school territory. Russell (1999) suggested that there had been cases, by which security officers detained young men going across shop malls, with trench coats on (as cited in Thompkins, 2000). Far from being an efficient tool of deterrence of the growth of violence produced by gangs and separate schoolchildren, such approaches may cause young people to feel harassed and turn alienated from school and law enforcers. As such, children may grow sympathetic to gangs.
Declaring black trench coats and presumed gang colors banned within schools will produce the results that are anything but appreciable. In all fairness, security measures like this will never succeed in averting the abovementioned tragedies. Schools ought to provide children with alternative opportunities of enjoying socially acceptable activities with a measure of excitement, kudos, and community involvement so that gangs will no longer appear attractive. Officials should make allowance for the fact that it takes a collective effort for the whole community and teachers to reduce crime level by having children involved in alternative, socially beneficial activities. It is sensible to take advantage of programs that have already proved their preventive worth.
Since ICOF’s coverage of teen gangs back in 2001, a number of states have enacted additional legislation to counter juvenile criminal activity; still, students have reported a relative crime increase at their educational establishments (Teen Gangs, 2009). According to Teen Gangs and Crime (1996), school administrations have enforced some policies that forbid students to wear gang-associated symbols in attempts to halt the growth and proliferation of criminal groups. Certain schools impose obligatory dress codes in terms of the police endorsed by President Bill Clinton in the mid-1990s. Other communities and schools see a particular preventive value in targeting gang-related clothes or emblems, such as baggy pants, bandannas, jackets and caps with logos of sport teams.
Administrators think of clothes with symbol as distinguishing gangs within the confines of schools, which is fraught with a tense environment for both schoolchildren and teaching personnel. More than that, there is the possibility of students’ showing sympathy towards gang members and copying their lifestyle. In Harvard, wearing garments of clothes rated as such that suggest gang affiliation is punishable by up to 500 dollars in fines as well as 6 months behind the bars. Activists and civil rights advocates have spoken against such measures that allegedly trespass on the First Amendment that guarantees the freedom of speech. A non-Jewish boy had a fine imposed on him for wearing a Star of David linked to a city gang leader and interpreted as a sign of sympathy by law enforcers.
It is becoming difficult to differentiate between the members of juvenile criminal cliques and nonmembers wearing similar clothes, for the line between gang and popular culture has become bleared. A Research Associate at the Juvenile Court in Cleveland Douglas Clay and Education Professor Frank Aquila opined that, rather than being the spread of criminal behaviors, the proliferation of gang-associated clothes is nothing else but another teenage fad. That teenagers demonstrate the knowledge of gang language, graffiti, and logos is indicative of them trying to be trendy. Hence, it is not the presence of gang-related clothes and logos that raises concern, it is the actual crime incidence that does (Teen Gangs and Crime, 1996). Policies implemented by schools to address the issue of gangs’ proliferation does not appear efficient in tackling the problem since they target anyone but actual juvenile law offenders. There seems to be a certain bias in the way school administration interpret visual symbols, bracketing gang members and civil-minded schoolchildren wearing clothes with gang-associated symbols to remain fashionable.
There are various reason children join school gangs. They may feel disengaged, isolated, socially excluded by peers, misunderstood by family members, and unsafe from physical abuse and harassment inflicted by peers. To make such haunting feelings disappear, they opt for protection within such illegal bands. Such organizations may become the source of identity and the sense of belonging at a time when traditional institutions, such as family and school fail at providing adequate support. Membership creates the feeling of control and power, with gang activities becoming a perfect outlet for those entertaining fury and rage. It is no wonder why two-member groups are heard attack schools, their mentors and fellows. If the American society is to improve the situation at schools, it needs current approaches changed. American Congress has enforced a number of bills since the mid-1990s while schools have improved their security systems especially in the wake of the Colorado Massacre that itself caused American law enforcers to suspect all black coat wearers of affiliation with school gang groups. Having said that, all such systems do is undermine the educational process and instil fear into both children and teachers. Metal detectors, security officers, and surveillance cameras may tackle the problem in gang-ridden precincts and communities to a degree. It is illogical suspecting children of gang connections on the basis of their wearing clique-related clothes since it may be nothing else but the desire to follow cultural trends. The cooperation of community and school administrations may be beneficial since they can elaborate extracurricular, socially acceptable occupations.
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