Friday, December 4, 2009

Crips, Kids and Canned Goods

I sat in a meeting at the office of the West Ward Neighborhood Partnership earlier this week discussing a number of issues including the struggles food pantries are facing in this difficult economy. Shelves are near bare at times and a growing number of folks are being fed meals and being distributed food regularly. The Easton Area Community Center reports serving 900 meals a month while a key ministry serves 600 and the Salvation Army provides groceries to 400 families a month. WWNP is actively involved in a number of ways, supporting families and the pantries.

While we were discussing these trends, three or four members of the CRIPS gang, appearing to be in their late teens, passed in front of the windows at least three times, staring in, talking loudly and flashing hand signs. In at least their effort was to let us so know of their presence. If I had more time I would have engaged them. I’ll do that another day.

The correlation between basic necessities and gangs is well documented. Many youth gravitate to gangs simply because they provide things like food. Anecdotally, not long ago a young man in Easton who was being sucked into a gang and required to *sell drugs came to me for help. When I asked him how he got involved, he explained that it began with a member of a gang buying him a meal. He was hungry and the meal went a long way to establishing ‘trust’ between the two. A young member of the Bloods told me not long ago, something I’ve reported publically, that the reason he stays a member is because the gang ‘feeds, clothes and protects’ him.

Gang growth, in particular CRIPS, local and national statistics and anecdotal evidence and reports I have received of recruitment and activity in our city and surrounding areas is alarming. This is not to say the Easton Police Department is not doing their job. A number of efforts by EPD should be applauded including the engagement of a volume of young kids in activities during the Peace Candle Lighting and the basketball leagues during the summer. While reported crime statics are promising, spikes in juvenile related crime, many unreported, are not. Regardless of how professional any police department is, it cannot and should not be expected to provide necessary gang intervention in and of itself.

A bad economy with double digit unemployment tends to stimulate gang growth and should be carefully watched and measured. Gang theory born out of analysis of Urban economies in the 1980’s and 1990’s during a significant spike in gang involvement, points to our postindustrial society and the impact on the labor market and upward mobility as one of the key drivers to gang growth, related activity and youth violence.

As a community, we should always have a healthy sense of optimism but it should be salted with wisdom and caution. Gangs ebb and flow for a number of reasons and this economy and the impact on the poor and disenfranchised youth cannot be treated lightly. In the absence of a progressive approach to gang intervention and in light of local trends, Easton may be facing a worse gang problem in the next year or two than we experienced in the last ten.

In the mean time residents and business can continue to support our food pantries and support efforts to create a progressive gang intervention plan or components thereof coordinated with or apart from government initiatives.

*Statistically only 1-in-4 gang members are involved in drug dealing. The outcome of the youth invovled was very good.


Anonymous said...

When you go to the store, buy the extra can and give it to the food bank. It won't cost that much and it will go along way.

noel jones said...

Great post, Terrence. Question: so can residents drop off cans at these locations at any time, or are there specific days that they receive goods?

If representatives from these three orgs that are collecting cans could post a comment letting us know, that would be great. Please also post any info you may have about coat drives, toy drives, etc.--thanks!

Donna R. said...

You may drop off non-perishable foods at Legacy Ministries most days except for Thursdays. Because it is a small ministry it is best to give the church a call before dropping off donations.

Thanks to all who have donated so far. We have a very compassionate and caring community. Sometimes all we have to do is ask:)