A story everyone should hear before joining a gang

Andre Coppage was a boy who had no father. His mother was rarely around because she was working. He was in charge of taking care of his five siblings ages 2 through 7. He needed money to keep food on the table so he did anything he had to, from stealing to joining a gang that dealt drugs. The gang would often use acts of violence to prevent competition from entering their drug territory and to get revenge if a violent act was committed against one of its members. One night in 1993, Andre's best friend shot and killed a rival gang member in front of many witnesses at a party. The police questioned Andre. He did not tell them anything, only that he was at the party. His friend was arrested, and his gang friends blamed Andre, falsely accusing him of snitching to the police, even though there were many other eyewitnesses. Word spread, so Andre, fearing the lost support of the gang, visited them at the house where they hung out in order to clear his name and tell them the truth. They didn't give him a chance to speak. They beat him with guns, rifles and other objects until he was near death and dumped him in an alley. They then threw a firebomb into his house. When he got home, he desperately ran into the house to save his brothers and sisters, but the blinding smoke and raging fire made it impossible. His entire family burned to death in the fire. Firemen found the children clinging to each other dead in the corner of a room. The gang went on as normal dealing millions of dollars in crack cocaine without justice. Everyone in the neighborhood knew who had killed Andre's family but they were all too scared to talk to the police, because of what they had done to Andre. Andre was homeless drifting from place to place, kicked out of his relative's house, unable to talk about the incident and suffering from the lack of justice. It wasn't until 4 years later, that the FBI brought the gang down. Two members were given life in prison without parole. Andre is still struggling to move on with his life, with the unbearable memory of his beloved brothers and sisters, and the voice of one of his brothers calling out to him from the fire.

Definition of a Gang

A group of three or more persons, who...

  • Share a common identity (a gang name)
  • Typically adopt and use certain signs, symbols, clothing and/or colors
  • Individually or collectively engage in criminal activity

Today, gangs can be found anywhere, from large to small cities, and from urban to rural areas. Today's gang members come from many different ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds.

A little background:

Criminal gangs have existed for 200 years. Many formed from immigrant groups, minority groups, and from certain economic classes. Irish immigrants formed the first American criminal gangs in New York City, during the early 1800's. Since then America has seen gangs composed of Jews, Blacks, Chinese, Chicanos (Mexican Americans), Puerto Ricans, Whites, women, and more recently immigrants from Vietnam, El Salvador and Haiti. Gangs have evolved though out their history due to different conditions and events, such as the northern migration of blacks and the immigration of Puerto Ricans after the Civil War. As poor neighborhoods became overcrowded, gang activity increased in poor neighborhoods. Gang warfare became more widespread as firearms became more readily available, and as gangs became more involved in the drug trade. Gang members have also become progressively younger throughout history.

Today, due to overcrowding, A gang's territory could be no more than a single corner or a block. Guns decide arguments quickly and gang wars today are usually fought like guerrilla warfare with sniping from rooftops and quick shots from speeding cars replacing face to face confrontations. This style of combat is likely to harm or kill innocent bystanders, including defenseless children. Gang violence today is usually driven by competition for drug sales.

Gangs exist in all 50 states and come from many backgrounds. Gangs are largely populated by mostly males, ages 13 to 24, from disenfranchised neighborhoods characterized by overcrowding, high unemployment, high drop out rates, lack of social and recreational services, and a general feeling of hopelessness. Some experts estimate that more than 80% of gang members are illiterate and find it nearly impossible to get a job.

Teens join gangs for a number of reasons:

Lack of a family or lack of a "family" feeling at home: Teens from troubled homes attempt to find substitute families or companionship in gangs. Abuse, neglect, and loss seem to be common themes among many gang members.

Peer pressure: If all your friends join, it only seems natural for you to join.

Excitement: The attraction to gangs is fueled by violence in the media, a fantasy of dominance over others, and an unordinary lifestyle.

Money: Gangs make money through drug trafficking, illegal weapons sales, robbery and theft. Millions of dollars each year are made by gangs through the sale of illegal drugs; frequently by kids, to kids. This money drives competition for territory in which to do business. Larger, more powerful gangs, in an effort to expand their market, commonly attempt to "take over" the market dominated by a smaller gang. This can lead to extremely violent and deadly gang warfare, resulting in severe injury and fatality of innocent bystanders. In prison, the same territorial dispute exists for control over the illegal drug trade within jails. Members are punished for the theft or loss of drugs and/or money. Punishment, sometimes in the form of violent gang murders and assaults, are a direct result of a gang's struggle to maintain control over their membership.

Fear or intimidation: Some people join gangs to feel safe in a dangerous community. However, the safe feeling gangs provide is very much an illusion. As far as other gangs are concerned, you are responsible for every crime your gang commits. You become a target for revenge. A target for turf wars. If your gang suspects you of any wrong doing, they'll punish you severely. In some communities gang members continually harass non-gang members until they join for protection, from the very people who are threatening them. Furthermore, the illegal activity that gangs participate in, such as drug dealing, can expose you to high levels of danger.

To gain respect: Some young people join gangs as a way to gain the respect they lack at home or in the community. However, There is a difference between respect and fear. Adults outside the gang community won't respect you, because they'll see you as part of the reason that their neighborhood is unsafe. Your peers won't honestly respect you. They'll just be afraid of what your gang might do to them or to the people they care about. The only way to gain true respect from the majority of people living on this planet, is by doing the right thing, making smart decisions, making a better life for yourself and your family.

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Related Info

Boys Town National Hotline
Crisis counseling for girls and boys and referral to local help

The National "YOUTH" Crisis Help line