Gangs are a problem in many communities in our part of the country. For the most part they have migrated up from California along drug distribution routes and preyed mostly, but not exclusively, on young first and second generation Mexican immigrants. Our valley had been spared most of it until recently, but slime tends to spread into unlikely places if it can find a path of little resistance. And so, perhaps due to our own complacency, we seem to have a gang problem just like many others in the Pacific Northwest.
Whatever else they are, gangs are essentially parasitic. They can only exist if there is a reasonably healthy host community on which to feed. They add nothing of value and their only product is the erosion and slow death of the good things of community life. When illegal drugs are added to the formula, as they often are, they make users and addicts in our community directly complicit in the ravages of rape and killing rampant among the drug lord wars south of the border.
The motivation for gang membership has been explained in many ways, and perhaps it is asking too much for middle school age recruits to think about gangs as parasites. But it’s not asking too much to be assertive about letting gang leaders know that they are parasites. And it’s not too much to ask that the community itself do its own hard work of self inoculation against parasitic infection. For instance, I’ve heard several well informed citizens argue for more resources for law enforcement to deal with gangs. Good for them, but it’s not enough. The community cannot rely on the police and sheriff’s office to do all the work. It’s not just a law enforcement problem. It’s a problem that has something to do with our willingness to tolerate community conditions that invite and nourish parasitic gangs. Education, housing, racism, neighborhood conditions, neighborhood leadership, public health, access to personal health care, economic development providing jobs with some hope for a decent standard of living, all that and more are conditions that must be addressed to create an environment in which the community prospers and gangs don’t.
It’s not an easy task. Communities that dump it all in the laps of law enforcement can expect little more than rear guard actions. Communities that try to get by on the cheap, who, in miserly anxiety, are afraid to invest in present and future needs for a healthy community, are just setting themselves up for gangs to prosper. Our community is proud of its fiscal conservatism. When that turns into mean spirited cheapness, the doors to decline are opened wide and parasitic infection is invited in.