8/18/05

GANGS GONE GLOBAL

It’s a cold rainy day in Los Angeles, and Arnold is doing what he does almost every day, kicks -it at his vending spot serving customers. Arnold, a 17-year-old member of the 18 Street gang, is the son of Mexican immigrants. He speaks Spanglish skillfully, mixed in with the local urban slang, and wears the traditional uniform typical of the Mexican youth of his Barrio; black trenchcoat, baggy pants, and meticulously clean white athletic shoes. Arnold has never traveled outside of Southern California and rarely ventures beyond a three-mile radius from his domain.

Arnold stands at the end of a long and familiar global commodity chain. The lil’ dime bags in his fist contain $10 hits of crack cocaine that look like jagged, disfigured pieces of sugar cubes. By the time the cocaine hits the streets of L.A. in the form of crack, it has already been touched by more than a dozen people in several countries. But Arnold has no interest in its global supply chain. His daily concerns and activities revolve around the few city blocks which compromise his every day world, and his aspirations reaching just as far. Arnold’s day is spent doing what other 17-year-olds do -sleeping, hanging out with the homeboys, trying to score on fine ladies, playing x-box, and just having some fun. He deals crack for only a few tic tocs a day and goes home with around $50 profit, lil’ more that what he’d make working at Mc D’s.

Arnold’s image-that of a young, inner-city gang member –is transmitted, exploited, and glamorized across the world by the media and Hollywood. The increasing mobility of info on the web, movies, and music, makes it easy for gang wannabes to get info, adapt personalities and distort gang behaviors. More often than not, these images of gang life are not only simply exaggerated; they’re flat-out wrong. Flashy cars, diamond rings, and wads of cash are not the gang world norms.

Hustling to make ends-meet, trying to put food on the table and shoes on his baby’s feet, while at the same time trying to stay out of the pen, wearing the same revolving wardrobe of clothes week after week, and trying to get himself some trade-tech schooling for a job that isn’t there anymore, just unemployment waiting around the corner, that is what is more typical for a young man like Arnold.

Nonetheless, the images of a glamour life as a gangster in the streets of Los Angeles prevail and continue to be displayed as truth to the world audience of youth around the nation; planting seeds in young minds who are to follow the road set before them by a lying government and their economic guru partners in true crime.

In the popular consciousness, the prevailing images of street gangs are one of two kinds. Gangs of drug-vending thugs who terrorize the neighborhood, and the other of drug-running/trafficking gangs with narco-terrorist connections. This spits out from the media and inept governments which seem to enjoy the easy job of linking the gang problem with the drug use problem in the Americas. However, reality shows that only a small percentage of gangs or its memberships are involved in any organized type of dealing or trafficking. And the vast majority of those gangs who are involved, are essentially filling the void in urban economies, a void which replaces all those labor jobs being sent overseas, those same jobs which traditionally served as a means for social stability in the neighborhoods.
Most street gangs lack the organization or leadership to operate internationally in the clandestine networks, instead, most street gangs engage in a little bit of drug use, larceny, fighting, and small cafeteria style drug dealing.
That being said, there now appears to be a handful of gangs who are reaching for the stars. Eighteen Street, Mara Salvatrucha, Sureños 13, Crips, Bloods, and the Latin Kings, are some of the street gang names which serve as a cover for the organization and development for a global reach in the underworld, no longer working solely as runners and distributors, but as mafias in their own right.
No longer are some of these street gangs bowing down as sub-servants to the Drug Kingpins of the narco world, for they are coming to realize that their hold and control of the streets, as well as their hold on funneling and distribution routes, is more valuable to the overseas suppliers than they were led to believe in the past.
Until recently, street gang membership was a common part of city boyhood and not terribly detrimental. Homeboys left the life as they got married, got a job, joined the military, or simply grew out of it. But as times changed and with the age in world economics, some street gangs as well have changed and adopted to make ends meet. Globalization and the resulting exodus of manufacturing jobs from the urban centers to the third world, has left city neighborhoods geographically and socially isolated and, more marginalized then ever before. Not surprisingly, street gangs and their violence have increased ten fold with globalization, and today, street gangs serve as de facto families, protectors, and employers for its members. Gang members are staying in the gang longer, and young women are beginning to re-enter the ranks, becoming ever increasingly more involved in their every day business operations.
Globalization and Street Gangs exist in a paradox: Gangs have become not only a national phenomenon, but an international one as well; not because of the gangs themselves becoming transnational, but because at the same time that globalization isolates poor neighborhoods heavily populated by gangs, law enforcement and immigration criminalization practices continue to help spread gang activity and culture.

GANGS have in a sense, GONE GLOBAL…

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