In the documentary, Crips and Bloods: Made in America, the history of gangs and gang violence are explored, as well as how they came to be. We see the different paths, especially in African American culture, that led to the present-day existence of gangs and gang affiliates. In the documentary, they interviewed individuals, specifically African American men, that have been or still are associated with the gang life. The prime object that helped explain the trajectory of gang life, the influence behind it, and the main goal was the contrasting individuals being interviewed as they all varied in age, gang affiliations, generations, and age in society that they were raised. We see older men as well as younger ones that are very different from each other but are all joined together and connected by the desire of acceptance as a colored man living in America.
Of the men that were interviewed and telling their stories, one man in a specific scene stood out to me immensely and had me thinking. Bird was one of the older men being interviewed throughout the documentary and his story is told early on. He explained that when he was a young boy, his mother and himself went to go sign him up to join the Boy Scouts of America. When they reached their destination and was able to talk to one of the scoutmasters, he explained that it may not be a good idea because the parents of the Caucasian children may have a problem with it. Bird recalled how not long after that, he and a group of friends created their own “club”, which would soon be referred to as a “gang” by the police and society. This scene had me thinking, does the oppression that young colored men experience early on in life prompt them to join these gangs and ultimately lead them on a path to seek acceptance and a feeling of belonging wherever they can find it?
While the presence of gangs and the pursuit of accomplishing the rules and beliefs they put into place go against most norms we have in American society, there tends to be more displays of deviance behavior within those societies than seen in the “typical” society. Robberies, shootouts, fights, graffiti, and drug associations are some of the implementations that become part of those individuals’ daily lives. Because of these labels that are inherently attached to these young men, there is a stronger disregard in behavior of actions that are shown. The best description of this theory is the labeling theory, in which the suggestion that people become “deviant” because certain labels are attached to their behavior by political authorities and others (Textbook cite). The mindset of “no matter what I do, I am going to be treated like a delinquent” is the running theme amongst these young men. The labeling is something that they cannot run from and it takes a lot more effort to detach from it than it does for others. If anything, it has become more of a way of life now, especially as the years continue forward and more and more generations of African American men are being born or introduced to this way of life early on. When it is something that is a tradition, the gang truly becomes and gives a sense of “family”.
The seclusions in society faced early on in life can impact a person forever. We depend on our organized social activities that give children in America the sense of “family”, love, unity, and belonging, whether that is through sports, instrument playing, or any other team activity. Lack of these opportunities, especially in young age, gives a sense of not belonging and having a skewed identity. The discrimination that most young colored boys face, especially in impoverished areas, are what ultimately leads them to create their own groups that provide a sense of love, unity, protection, and acceptance. They are able to form an identity because of the association with others like themselves, in whatever way is important to the individual. There has inherently always been that label on young colored men that they are viewed as people who will commit a crime (docum). When the social barriers are so common and have been a lifelong struggle in an individual’s daily life for their whole life, there is going to be resentment for the people and ways of life on the other side of those barriers.
With the common cycle of crimes and deviant behavior that is displayed from these groups of individuals, there comes the question of if these young men are participating in these acts for attention from society or if that is truly the way of life that they are living? The answer could be a combination of both, yet many of these deviant acts result in being pretty familiarized with our justice and law system. Young men in these situations are not new to the run-ins with local police. The sad fact is that many of these behaviors and acts of crime start at a fairly young age. By the time these individuals are of the age of eighteen, most already have an extensive criminal history and background. This unfortunately negatively impacts the chances of employment opportunities and the chances of these young men becoming productive members in society and making an honest living. This prompts these individuals to further stray away from being or even wanting to be members in society. They have to start making an income in different ways that are majorly against the norms we have in place in our society. It becomes a continuous cycle that comes full circle. Somehow, the circle needs to be broken and the cycle has to come to a halt.
To prevent youth from joining gangs, communities must strengthen families and schools and improve community supervision (cite ncjrs). The biggest change that needs to occur is within society. While income, area of living, and family situations or dynamics can and are major influences on young men joining these gangs to make some money to support their siblings at home or to have a sense of respect and love, these are usually stemming from the oppression and labeling that occur. A topic or argument like this is immensely vast and there are so many different views and opinions on this and there are going to always be extremists on either side, but the main objective remains the same. Even though we all have the same basic freedoms, regardless of race, background, income, or sexual orientation, we do not have the same opportunities. So many individuals have the same ideas, work ethic, drive, and intentions as the person next to them, but that social barrier is what keeps them from grabbing that opportunity unlike the individual next to them who are able to cross those boundaries or live a way of life as that of the desirable side. When you are constantly being told you are a certain way or being labeled your whole life, you are going to start to believe that. From a young age, the capabilities and potential for this specific group of individuals is limited and sometimes they never get to discover their true potential.