Behind the Doc

"Gang Member" is Just a Label

Posted June 6, 2011 6:13 p.m. EDT

In talking with the students at EDGE in Durham I learned a lot about gangs. Most of the students at EDGE belong to gangs like the Bloods, Crips, Latin Kings and Folk. They see being a member of a gang much the way a college student might see being a member of Sigma Nu. The idea is to belong to something bigger than them, to a fraternity of like-minded people with similar backgrounds who become as close as brothers. In many ways the gang becomes a surrogate family. Many of these young men have little to no family structure or support in their lives so the gang becomes a substitute. I asked several of them if their gang brothers resented them or ridiculed them for going to EDGE to try and get an education and better their lives. They said quite the contrary was true, that their gang brothers encouraged them and supported them in their effort to earn a GED and graduate from EDGE. In fact many of the students thanked and acknowledged the support of their gang brothers at the EDGE graduation May 6.

Do gang members commit crimes? Absolutely. But the term “gang member” is just a label. If there were no gangs, many of these young men would still be in the same situation and would still be getting in trouble with the law. Governor Bev Perdue created an “Anti-Gang Task Force” last year. Add it to the countless number of “anti-gang” task forces and commissions across the state and nation that seem to have had little to no impact on the problem. Perhaps policymakers should focus less on fighting a label and more on eliminating the poverty and other socio-economic factors that lure idle young men into gangs in the first place.
 

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Documentary producer and writer Clay Johnson provides some behind-the-scenes insight into the production of WRAL documentaries.