The Current Gang Culture – This is Not “West Side Story”

Oddly, I have been exposed to what seems like more than my fair share of gang violence.

I recently sat through eight days of the jury selection process pertaining to the trial of a known member of the largest Hispanic gang in Oxnard, California.  He allegedly robbed and killed a local businessman in cold blood as he exited a bank in Oxnard.  The victim was carrying a satchel of cash that he was transporting to his check-cashing facility.  I was glad I was not chosen for the panel, although I am sure I would have been dismissed had I been called up for questioning and relayed the following information.

When I lived in the Coachella Valley in California, two of my closest friends were robbed at gun point by members of a Hispanic gang in Indio, California.  My friends were brothers, and they were exiting their check-cashing facility, located in their meat and produce store, with $100,000 in cash that they were transporting to another of their stores.  The thieves were lying in wait in the parking lot.  After turning over the satchel to the robbers, one of my friends was shot repeatedly in the chest, and his younger brother was shot in the back as he attempted to flee.  The gang community closed ranks around its members, and provided alibis for the shooters.  Ironically, both of my friends were also Hispanic.

Five years after the horrific trauma my friends endured, I was mugged and robbed by four gang members in Palm Desert, California, in the parking lot of a Michael’s store.  One of the robbers was lying in wait under my car, and he attacked me as I approached my vehicle.  The police said I was lucky I did not resist, as they knew which gang was responsible for the crime, and they informed me that the members were armed and violent. None of the perpetrators in either of these events were ever apprehended or prosecuted.

When I moved to California’s Coachella Valley in 1985, gangs had little presence in that community. Today, three of the eight cities in the valley have gang injunctions imposed within their city limits – Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and Indio.  These are similar to the gang injunction granted to the city of Oxnard, California in 2004, and to several other cities in the State of California.

Unless you have had some direct or indirect experiences with gang violence, many people believe it is an “internal problem” that affects only certain areas of certain communities. To the contrary, gang violence affects all of us.

This information was compiled by the National Gang Intelligence Center of the FBI:

1. Approximately 1.4 million gang members were criminally active in the United States as of April 2011.  The number of identified gangs in the U.S. is over 33,000.

2. The numbers compiled in 2011 represents a 40% increase from two years prior (2009) when the gang population was estimated at 1.0 million members

3. Gangs are responsible for an average of 48% of the violent crimes in the United States, and up to 90% of such crimes in several large cities.

4. Gangs are increasingly engaging in human trafficking, prostitution, counterfeiting, identity theft and mortgage fraud, in addition to their core activities of drug trafficking, robbery and violent assaults.

5. The best estimates of the ethnic breakdown of these gangs is approximately 49% Hispanic/Latino, 34% African American, 10% Caucasian, 6% Asian and 1% other ethnicities.

This rise of the gang population in this country is nothing less than an epidemic.  The illegal activities of these gangs are not confined solely to the neighborhoods in which they live, since they engage in violence and crimes far beyond the walls of their communities.

Evil prevails when good men and women do nothing, and nothing changes unless we accept that there is a problem.  We are long overdue to engage in an honest, open and frank national dialogue about what we can do to address the threat that gangs pose to the societal, emotional and spiritual health of our country.

Pierce Morgan of CNN has become the self-appointed voice for the gun-control debate in this country.  Perhaps he would consider taking on the topic of the effects of the gang activity in this country.  The sheer magnitude of the destruction inflicted upon our society by gang activities makes the issue of gun control seems like child’s play.

Sadly, gangs are an issue we must contend with in our changing world – and lest we get confused about what gangs are involved with and what they look like, the current gang culture bears no resemblance to that portrayed in West Side Story!

About Marion Witte

Marion Witte was born and raised on a farm on the prairies of North Dakota. It was there that she acquired her Midwestern work ethic and her philosophy of helping others. Marion enjoyed a successful career as an entrepreneur, and upon selling her various business interests she began pursuing a life of philanthropy. She is passionate and outspoken about the need for radical changes in the way we view children and parenting. Her memoir “Little Madhouse on the Prairie” relays the story of her life, and it is the basis of her commitment to this work. She founded and manages the Angel Heart Foundation and its sister organizations “Next Generation Parenting” and “Brave New Leaders.”

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