Stories of Denial
The county Sheriff said "If
the city police don't start addressing the problem they're gonna have a big problem. They have what we had four years ago.
The reason we didn't act before the [gang related] murder in 1996 was that we're a tourism county - the whole state is tourism-based. So the politicians
are very concerned about any fear that might result from publicizing our gang problem. So we
didn't talk about it. And that's what the city police seem to be doing."
A saying I often heard in the field regarding communities and
gangs was "Denial is more than just a river in Egypt." I
didn't get it at first, now I can't get it out of my head. Here are just a few of the stories of denial I heard concerning gangs as
shared with me by my field interview subjects. Each story has been drawn from a
|Community A: A gang unit officer said "Because we depend so much on tourism, gangs are not discussed. They're
not discussed in public, among the police, in the press or any where
else." When he offered to come to the community's churches and talk about the gang
situation, only his church invited him to speak.|
|Community B: When the gang squad leader started the department's gang unit he
called other area police departments to learn what they were doing about
gangs in their own communities. He told me "I was
told 'If you have gangs, deny it.'" He believes "Denial
is actually a product of politics. If a police department admits
that there are gangs in the community, tourism, business, and development
will be hurt. And we don't want
to hurt tourism or business, now, do we?" His last remark was clearly
|Community C: I asked the Chief of Police if there were any
gangs in town. "No, we don't have gangs here," he
replied. Later in the evening I asked two of his gang officers
if they could tell me the names of the gangs that exist in their city.
"Bloods, Crips, the Gangster Disciples, Folk, Lost Boys, Latin Kings, Mexican Mafia,
and the School Yard Crips," said one of the officers. Then, out of the blue,
another of the officers said "We're not so naive as to not know that we have a gang problem.
just better for the city if we don't say that."|
|Field Note: A
Chief Probation Officer said "The
people of this city are like ostriches. They bury their heads when
it comes to gangs. I see so many gang-related shootings, but
the police department refuses to acknowledge the connection of the
shootings with gangs. Instead, they attribute the shootings to drug
deals gone bad."
|Community D: I hired a First Peoples
guide for a full day's walk through sacred Indian lands in
Colorado. As the day progressed I learned my 45-year old guide
had been a police officer for six years on a near-by
reservation. I asked if there were any gangs on the Reservation.|
He told me "We don't really have gangs. They're
just a bunch of wannabes. They go by names like the 'North Side' and 'South
Side.' I don't know how many youths are involved but I know that a group of them
attacked an older member of the tribe. They raped him and slit his throat open
from ear to ear. Then they dragged him back to his house and left him lying on
his front step. That's how a neighbor and the police found
"Some of our children are also getting into devil
worship," he lamented. "The ones who raped and murdered that man also
drew some things on his stomach and our people think this has something to do
with the cults we have. When I was a child and we had fights with one another,
we just chased one another and maybe hit one another. Now its guns and knives
and people are getting killed."
Max Benson, a youth guidance counselor at
the Lloyd Rader Center in Sand Springs, Okla., has said that
when he first began working at the juvenile detention facility,
"Maybe three out of all the number of young people we had
were Indian. Now we have Indian kids in every unit." Law
enforcement officers also are alarmed by the apparent increase
in gang activity among Indian youth.
A member of the Tulsa Police Department's
Gang Task Force has stated, "Three years ago we didn't know
of a Native American gang. We had Native Americans in gangs, but
now we have more than one gang that is strictly Native
American." This same officer said Indian gangs are similar
to gangs in Los Angeles and other large metropolitan areas,
where gang affiliation falls along racial lines.
Indian gang members often commit crimes in
cities and flee to tribal land to hide, a trend Indian leaders
would like to see stopped. The Pawnee tribe created a gang
intervention unit last spring that is the first in the Nation
geared to the problem of Indian gangs.
Through a tribal resolution, the Tribes of
Oklahoma Gang Task Force was created with the purpose of
educating tribes and other groups about the growing problem. An
Indian law enforcement officer reports that 15 Indian gangs have
been identified in Oklahoma. He states that gang members from
Tulsa and Oklahoma City come to Indian land and recruit and sell
Other gang-related activities include
drive-by shootings, burglary, and development of their own
language and wardrobe. Officials advise that American Indian
children are no different from other children who have turned to
gangs for emotional support they are not receiving elsewhere.
Federal officials believe the Indian gang problem is not limited
to tribes in Oklahoma, which has the largest Indian population
in the Nation, but is a problem among Indian tribes throughout
the Nation. (
Nielsen and Silverman, 1996, pp. 56-57 )
|Community E: In this community of 20,000 inhabitants there are
a few African-American, Hispanic, and Asian residents. There
are, according to the police, only two gangs in this town - the
East Side and the West Side gangs. Only some of the gang
members' names are known to the authorities. They are a mix of
whites, African-Americans, and Hispanics.|
Only one police officer in the department had an interest in
gangs. He told me "There are about thirty to forty core gang
members in the gangs and two- to three hundred associates
in all. Tory is a white gang member who we arrested for armed
robbery. He did time and continues to be a problem in town. He
seems to be behind a lot of drug activity in town." The
officer told me Tory has mules (drug runners) who bring meth up
from Mexico already cooked (processed) and ready to sell.
"Ron is a black gang member who is known to us and to the
community," the officer said. "The crimes he and Tory
commit include larcenies, vandalism, and drug sales. But meth is
the primary problem drug here, and alcohol is our worst drug -
but that's true everywhere. Gangs are a four letter word
around here. We don't have a problem, even if we do."
The chief of police who left last year didn't recognize gangs as
a problem and saw the one police officer interested in the gang
situation as a fool to think there were any gangs. "The new
chief recognizes there may be a problem and that it could get
worse if it's not taken care of now."
|Community F: The chief of police refuses to publicly admit
there are gangs in this town. Patrol officers and
probation/parole personnel told me there were "between 35
and 39 different gangs in town." A few months ago there was
a shooting in the midst of the African-American gang
neighborhood and one teenage male was killed. |
I asked the Chief if the incident was gang-related. He said "It
looks to me like these two guys were having a tough time with one another
for the past few months. A couple days ago one of them shoots the other,
misses, and his intended victim shot back and killed him two days later.
That's about it. I don't know about any gangs."
|Field Note: Just
two weeks later, in Community F, the previous head of the gang unit
told me "I know for a fact there is a video tape that was made
at the funeral of the youth who was shot. It showed his homies paying their last respects.
They were throwing money into the open casket.
"There was a massive display of gang hand signs, and
a show of colors.
was wearing red and blue was the obvious color of choice. They were
even pouring beer on the grave - symbolizing this sip is for my dead
|At a regional conference on gangs the attendees were told there are a
variety of statements which have been made by local residents indicating why
they don't think they need be worried about gangs. Among the statements are:|
|My kid isn't involved.|
|Those kinds of things just don't happen here.|
|They're just kids.|
|It was only beer.|
|That's not graffiti, it's just vandalism.|
|There are no gangs in my school.|
|They're a youth group, not a gang.|
|They're just having fun.|
|They'll grow out of it.|
|So what if they are wearing colors|
there a meth lab in or around your community?
Michael K. Carlie
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writing from the author and copyright holder - Michael K. Carlie.