It’s hard to believe it was 25 years ago today that the Rodney King beating took place. 25 years since we first saw that grainy video of police officers brutally assaulting King on a freeway off ramp. It was one of the first incidents captured on video by a bystander and shared immediately with local news media. By the following day the video was being broadcast nationwide and cries of police brutality filled the airwaves. As a result four white police officers were eventually brought to trial. Of course we all know how that turned out. Even with video footage the officers were ultimately acquitted which resulted in one of the worst riots in modern history. South Central L.A. was ablaze.
The rioting and looting that followed the Rodney King verdict was not so much a response to that verdict, but more likely, the straw that broke the camels back. Just another injustice heaped upon lowly blacks. These people just got fed up with all they’ve had to put up with from police, and the bureaucracy and made a violent statement to express the frustration and anger they’ve been feeling for years.
Rodney King was just an excuse, much like the arrest of Marquette Frye, her mother and brother, triggered the rebellion which became the Watts Riots. Sadly, the Watts Riots didn’t really seem to accomplish much. There were no great social or economic gains made by the Watts blacks in 1965. Certainly there was concern and interest in the area by local, state and federal agencies, but still no great, long-lasting strides were made. All the riots really seemed to do is alleviate some of the pressure that had built up in the area. Nothing really changed. I only hope this latest riot does not have the same outcome.
When people are forced to reside in this type of environment, they quickly become disappointed and disillusioned. Squalid conditions breed contempt. Contempt for government, contempt towards those who are successful, and especially contempt for the law. Most gang members, both Black and Chicano, come from this type of squalid background. Their parents and grandparents came to Los Angeles looking for something better for their families and instead were subjected to social injustice. They’ve felt the sting of prejudice, and been forced to work for next to nothing. They gave up hope when they realized that the system was not offering them the American dream, but was instead trying to keep them down.
From this disillusionment sprang gangs. Individuals looking to find the things missing in their lives, recognition, money, power, respect and a sense of control over their environment. Now the situation is out of hand. Gangs have made the streets of Los Angeles and other major cities and communities unsafe for us. They have turned our communities into war zones. We live in fear for our lives, for not only do they kill each other, but also many innocent people who happen to get in their way. Although the gang is not new, it has escalated rapidly from fists, knives, and chains, to handguns, shotguns, and AK47s. A few of my sheriff friends believe that the only way to stop gang violence is to have an all out gang-buster war with them. Close them down once and for all. What a waste of humanity.
Gangs are not the enemy. The true enemy is the society that created the conditions that allowed gangs to flourish. We need to make societal changes that will offer potential gang members an alternative to gang membership. we have to find a way to show these youngsters that they do have a chance to succeed. To do this we need to re-establish family values. These children need to feel loved, wanted and needed in the structure of the family. They need the encouragement of parents and must feel that what they accomplish, particularly at school, is important.
Parents must be role-models for these children. They must present a successful attitude and a willingness to continue trying even when things don’t go well. If a child constantly sees a depressed and worried parent or a parent who abuses himself with drugs or alcohol, he may develop a defeatist attitude and follow in their parents footsteps. We must set a good Example. They must also be taught the importance of right and wrong, not only in the family but in society as well. They must learn these things early on if they are to be successful at avoiding gang membership.
Schools must play an important part in breaking down gang membership. We as teachers must work with these gang students and build their self-esteem. We need to support them in the classroom and encourage them. More minority teachers with some similarity in background must be hired to serve as role-models to show these kids that there is a way out. These teachers are often more approachable for these students.
Most importantly they need to feel hope. They need to see that there is a life for them outside of the gang. Teachers and administrators must be trained in dealing with the gang student. They must learn to recognize those students who are at-risk and learn to work with them, not against them. Teachers must learn to deal with all their students equally and not let a child’s nationality or background influence them. Programs must be developed that will help these students see their chances for making it in the real world. Teachers, parents and administrators must work together to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of the child’s success.
As mentioned previously, societal changes must also be made if gangs are to be eradicated. not only must the community do its part by providing different types of recreational activities and part-time jobs or job training for these kids. Churches can sponsor other alternatives as well such as graffiti clean up, car washes, food or clothing drives involving gang members.In addition local, state and federal government must lend a hand by providing funds to these communities.
If big government doesn’t take an active interest in alleviating the conditions in the communities which lend themselves to gang membership, nothing will change. Job programs, improved housing, and an improved economy in the area, are the building blocks which will lay the foundation for the eradication of gangs. Parents, teachers, administrators, local law enforcement, community members and government must form a partnership in combating gangs.
When all the components are working together in harmony, gangs can be eliminated entirely, or at least relegated to a very minor role in the community and prosperity can thrive. It won’t happen right away, but it’s a beginning. 6/94