Our valley, like most others areas, has a growing gang problem. Compared to other places ours is minor, an irritant to the community rather than a serious danger. Gang members seem more interested in preying on each other than anyone else. They are minor traffickers in drugs, and, I suspect, moving into loan sharking in the wake of departing unprofitable payday loan operations. That’s just a guess, but if I was a gang leader it would look like easy money to me and a racket mostly out of sight of the good citizens of the town.
I’ve only had prolonged conversations with one gang member, and he seems not simply unaware but ignorant of the parasitic nature of the beast. I think that’s partly because he is also ignorant of what makes a community healthy. The ordinary lessons of high school civics did not take root. Like any parasite, gangs need a host on which to feed. It can give nothing of value to the host. It can only suck the life out of it until both it and the host are dead. The host does not need to be all that healthy, although it needs to exist in an environment where health is possible. Parasites such as gangs seem to thrive best on hosts that are marginalized elements of the greater community. More sophisticated gangs try to sell the idea to themselves and others that they are able to live in a symbiotic relationship with the community of the marginalized. It’s a cruel charade, but it can be persuasive for some.
Where the greater community is most closely linked to our local gangs is through drugs. Local drug users, especially teens and young adults, seem oblivious to the connection between their drug use, their local sources and the violence that is snuffing out lives throughout Mexico, and, increasingly, farther south. I wonder if it would help if there was something like a Surgeon General’s warning on each packet of marijuana or cocaine? “WARNING, you paid for two assassinations, five rapes and three persons tortured when you bought this packet.” I suppose it’s a naive idea, but the naivete of several young people I know who have used “recreational” drugs is overwhelming.
We’ve tried preaching and teaching against drug use from the health angle (“This is your brain on drugs”). It was ignored or sneeringly laughed off. I wonder if making it clear that drug use makes one an accomplice to murder, rape and torture would make a difference? Maybe. But I’ll suggest yet another possibility, and it goes back to the question of high school civics. If young people and adults alike do not understand what makes for a healthy community, how are they to be held accountable for creating and sustaining one? Schools, churches and local governments are the only sources I know of where that can be taught. But what good would even the best teaching do if all one ever witnesses of politics is the carnage of extremist political rhetoric punctuated by blatant hypocrisy and scandal?
You can see where this train of thought is going. What began with some observations about local gang activity has ended up in the lap of national political commentators and leaders. Moreover, I will be bold enough to assert that it is not a balanced problem – the left is as bad as the right and they should both clean up their acts. No, whatever the faults on the so called left may be, and they are legion, they do not compare to the outrage being perpetrated on the public from the so called right.
What’s the answer? I think you know, at least if you are willing to think about it a little. What’s the outlook? Not all that promising from where I sit.