Into The Abyss:
A Personal Journey into the World of Street Gangs

by Mike Carlie, Ph.D.        
Michael K. Carlie
Continually updated.

~ Table of Contents ~
Home | Foreword | Preface | Orientation

What I Learned | Conclusions
End Note |
| Appendix
Site Map / Contents
| New Research

Up-To-Date Gang-Related News


Possible Topics for a Community-Wide
Forum on Gangs and Youth Violence

When it come to creating an outline of topics to present at a community forum on gangs and youth violence (or any topic), it should be noted that every community's needs are different. Depending upon the nature of the community and its gang and youth violence issues, the topics may vary. 

Most community forums will offer general as well as specific information, as you will see in the outline below. And, depending upon whether the presentation is to children (elementary through high school) or adults, the topics will vary. Without any pretense at prioritizing them - or sorting those which are more relevant when the audience is comprised of adults or children - here are some topics for your consideration as you prepare an outline for your community forum. Most forums last for from one to two hours (often depending upon the number of questions participants ask).

Introductions and Opening Remarks:

bulletIntroduce the speakers and provide a brief outline of the background which qualifies them as speakers at the forum.

bulletRecognize the presence of certain individuals at the meeting (i.e., law enforcement/court officials, school officials, business people, faith community leaders, neighborhood association executives, community activists, reformed gang members, etc.).

bulletExplain the purpose for having the forum and, if it is being presented by a gang task force, what the goals of the task force are, who serves on it, etc.

bulletHand out business cards so participants may more easily contact members (or a designated member) of the task force or other group presenting the forum.

Suggestions for Forum Content:

bulletWhat is a gang? Earlier in Into the Abyss the term "gang" was defined in some detail. Perhaps an abbreviated form of that discussion would be helpful for the form attendees. |

bulletPolice sometimes gather data on gangs and sort the data into two categories: motive-based gang reporting and member-based gang reporting.

bulletWhy do some people join gangs? You can choose from among several reasons why some people join gangs by visiting our earlier discussion of Why Gangs Form.

bulletDiscuss the difference between "nations" of gangs (like Bloods/Crips, Surenos/Nortenos, People/Folk) and "sets" (subgroups within each nation). You can find information on Bloods, Crips, People and Folk, Hispanic Gangs (i.e., Mexican Mafia, Surenos, Nortenos), and Asian Gangs in the Internet and at your local library.

bulletThere are differing levels of gang involvement. The senior and most dedicated members of a gang are sometimes referred to as O.G.s (original gangsters - African American or Caucasian) or veteranos (Hispanic/Latino) or by similar names which pay respect to their long-term status in the gang.

Next, and not too far away, are other hard core members who may, in time, reach original gangster status or not. They, like the original gangsters, are among the most criminally active members of the gang. 

Newly initiated members, followed by associates and gonnabes (wannabes) are, in lesser degrees, involved in gang activity although gonnabes/wannabes can be particularly dangerous. At the fringes of gang activity are all high-risk or at-risk youth who live in or around gang activity.

bulletHow can concerned parents, teachers, and others determine whether a child is involved in a gang? There are a variety of telltale signs used by police and other changes in behavior which may be noticeable.

bulletShow pictures/slides of graffiti found in the community and provide an interpretation of what the graffiti signifies or means.

bulletBring former gang members to the meeting (and perhaps their probation/parole officer) and give them time to share their experiences and difficulties.

bulletIf children/youths are present, perhaps they should hear about what will happen to them if they are arrested and believed to be gang members (police, school resource officers, judges, or probation/parole officers will speak to this if you invite them to the forum).

bulletShow participants what the conditions of probation (example) are noting how their lives will be significantly impacted if they start getting involved in delinquency/gang behavior.

bulletIf the forum is held in a school setting, some speakers should remain after the form to answer questions from children who were reluctant to ask their question in public.

bulletDiscuss the "Three strikes and you're out" law and how it applies to gang members and other delinquent youth. You can read about California's law as an example.

bulletTalk about the influence and consequences of peer pressure as it is related to drawing youths into gangs, drugs, irresponsible sexual behavior, fighting, bullying, and other activities which are likely to get the youth into life-long trouble. Dr. Peter Stringham (M.D.) provides some useful information on gangs and peer pressure which can be used as a backdrop for your comments on this subject.

bulletDiscuss local statistics on youth violence and gang activity and their impact upon the quality of life of those who are victims of this activity and those who are causing this activity. Local police, school resource officers, juvenile officers, and probation/parole officers can be valuable resources for gathering such data and providing it to task force members for discussion. 

For data and analysis of the gang situation nationwide, read Highlights of the 1999 National Youth Gang Survey, by Arlen Egley, Jr. and published by the U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. You may also visit the bibliography for additional articles of interest which may be found on the Internet.

bulletDiscuss the negative impact of gang activity and youth violence on the families of the youths involved.

bulletDiscuss the reality of being in detention and/or jail and what the consequences are of such confinement (i.e., social isolation, being stigmatized for life, possible loss of employment and dismissal from school). Building Blocks for Youth, an organization dedicated to creating a fair and just juvenile justice system, provides a realistic appraisal of the juvenile detention situation in the United States.

bulletProvide attendees with the laws and regulations of the city, county, and state regarding delinquent behavior (including gang activity and youth violence). You can learn about your state's gang-related legislation by visiting this site (the Institute for Intergovernmental Research).

bulletYou can talk about the impact of gangs on a child's academic performance and on the school setting generally. Gary Burnett's article on Gangs in Schools is particularly helpful in understanding these issues. The U.S. Office of Juvenile Justice and Youth Gangs has an excellent publication on the topic of gangs and schools (by James Howell and James Lynch).

bulletIf you want to discuss how to improve one's parenting skills, visit the site of Family Works: Strategies for Building Stronger Families (sponsored by the University of Illinois Extension center).

bulletDiscuss what a gang member may look like (wearing tattoos, only certain colors, clothes that exhibit symbols of gang members - the name of a gang, a gang logo, etc.). If you aren't knowledgeable about this subject, invite a local police officer, school resource officer, juvenile officer, or probation/parole officer to talk about it.

bulletIf your community is small, attendees may be skeptical about any growing gang problem in their community. In reality, gangs are no longer confined to large cities.

bulletSome parents are not familiar with what certain kinds of drugs look like nor their impact upon their children if they use them. Since gangs are often associated with the transportation, distribution, sale, and use of drugs, it would be a good idea to talk about this subject. 

For a good overview of drugs currently being abused, visit the site of If you can make your presentation using the Internet, take the audience out on this site so they can see what the drugs actually look like. If that's not possible, invite local narcotics officers to bring samples of the drugs they have confiscated so the audience can view them.

bulletProvide forum attendees with the names and phone numbers of individuals they can contact if they fear their child is involved in gangs, drugs, or any other activity for which the parent is seeking help.

bulletKnow which whom your child is socializing. Know their names, the names of their parents, where they live, and their home phone number. While your child may resist this, better safe than sorry. Children need supervision, and this is one important aspect of it. It's your responsibility as a child's guardian or parent.

bulletWhat Internet sites and movies is your child watching? Have you determined that those sites and movies are appropriate for your child? Are you monitoring their viewing habits and helping them make sense of the things they are watching (providing support for the positive images they see and reasons why you think other images are harmful)?

bulletLook at your child's school books and notebooks. Are there any signs of gang graffiti on them? If there are, ask your child about them and let them know you are concerned - and don't stop there. Go beyond the graffiti and deal directly with the possibility that your child may be getting involved in something that is potentially very harmful.

bulletSome parents feel as though their children are immune to gangs because the children are bright, or involved in athletics at school, or because they are females. There is NO characteristic children possess which immunizes them against gang activity other than their moral or ethical position rejection of such behavior.

bulletIf you'd like to show a brief video about gangs, perhaps you can locate one through your local library, school resource officer, police department, or probation/parole office. If you do show a video, leave a few minutes open for discussion once you've shown it.

End with a Question and Answer Period

Return to The Community Forum

2002 Michael K. Carlie
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without permission in writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.