Oct 202016

The Police Officer will do a good job.  But at the root?   it’s not actually his job.


The growth of gangs is a symptom that tells us we are failing.  So how do we get a passing grade?

A fundamental responsibility of our communities is to provide the stew to nourish our individual toddlers into adulthood, to empower them to develop their gifts.

Simply so they may experience comfortable pleasure in greeting others and know the joy of giving.

A lot of work is required to improve our communities.   The souls who can do it are with us.

Our job is to remove the shackles that place them in a situation where their needs are met in the community of a gang, on a path of self-destruction.

My contribution is to pass along what I learned from a community in South Africa, in a way that will hopefully be helpful for reaching a passing grade.   I don’t have any more answers than you have.  I know less than the Police Officer;  but I do know that his job is impossible without our attention (discussion), at minimum.

There was a time when we didn’t have the large problem we have today with gangs (and the concomitant drugs).

The gangs are the result of a need that kids have;  our communities aren’t delivering.

The evolution of gangs as an answer for the kids is probably a natural evolution under the conditions.

The lesson taught to me by an unknown South African points in a direction I would not have thought of for some of the answers. 



– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –


The Canadian ideal is  peace, order and good governance.  

The American ideal is  life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Viktor Frankl :   I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

Viktor Frankl:    Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.   

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Oct 19th  CBC Radio,  On the Island,  Gregor Craigie interviewing.



The Police Officer (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry)  commented on the motivation that leads some young men, boys, to join gangs.


If we can get the answer and response to that right,  more young men will have the opportunity to contribute.  They will help to build better communities instead of contributing to the deterioration towards violence.


At a basic level the things that erode the  peace, order and good governance  of a community will have commonality with other communities of human beings.    In the 1990’s  we went to a community-constructed Museum housed in a little church in Capetown, South Africa.   Someone had written down their understanding of why the gangs developed.


Later, back home in Dartmouth Nova Scotia, boys who were around grade 10 level, from “good” homes, terrorized and trashed;  two of their targets were the children of friends.  The behavior of these kids was almost impossible to make sense of   . . .   until that piece of paper tacked on the wall of the little museum in South Africa floated back into my consciousness.

Memories, observations, reflections had been written and brought to the Museum to form a collective memory and testament to a community that had once existed and obviously been loved.   One of those writings lodged in my brain, the one that recorded the experience with gangs.   I conjecture that the person knew and loved some of the children when they were “good kids” in District 6 and sought to understand how it was that they changed.  Many parents, relatives and friends of our gang members will know that same search for answers.


A thriving mixture of people had lived not far from the docks in Capetown – – “District 6”.   Men walked to work, loading and unloading cargo at the docks.   At home, shopkeepers, repairmen, women buying fresh vegetables and meat moved about the streets.  Kids attended school.  In the evenings someone strummed a guitar, there was rhythm, laughter and chatter.  On Saturday night the music-makers coalesced in the school hall.  From the very young to the very old, the members of the community came together to talk, to dance and have fun.  Nobody wanted to miss the weekly happening. It was a vibrant community with solid values.


I think you will come to see that although their material circumstances were very different from ours, the roots of their gangs are not altogether different from the roots of our gangs.


The Police Officer told your listeners that gang members in B.C. are from many backgrounds.   He singled out the fact that some are from well-to-do families.    And named a couple of the kids as examples of those who – – you struggle to understand – –  and conclude they are motivated by greed alone.  (Read on.  That conclusion might appear to be the case but it’s not at the root.)


The people whose lesson I remember were Poor, as categorized by others.  Prior to the evolution of gangs, their photos and stories  tell of a community rich in things not measured:  self-sufficiency; looking out for each other;  integrity; a healthy, diverse, supporting community.   Some of our Canadian  gang members come from poor backgrounds, too.


I will return to the influence of the stew we feed our kids – – But keep in mind:  you can be measured if your transactions go through the cash register.  Otherwise you can’t be.  Our economic system categorizes you as “poor” if you grow your own food, make your own music, and build your own home – –  no matter how finely crafted, the aesthetics and the value.  No matter how meaningful it is for you to make a home for your family, and to prepare good food for them.   What has meaning is not counted.  You move up the ladder, you contribute to economic growth through the “more” you buy – – it can be measured and reported through the cash register.   If YOU create – – – oops and damn!   Added insult:  because of advertising we assign value and “must have” status to – – – I am laughing now – – – you will have your own crazy examples.  The fad passes and the doll is in the dumpster.

Some part of a child can be moulded.   Another part is highly intuitive.   Viktor Frankl writing about unemployment and depression at one point draws in “the young”:

depression  . . .  insofar as the feeling of meaningless is concerned, however, we should not overlook and forget that, per se, it is not a matter of pathology;  rather than being the sign and symptom of a neurosis, it is, I would say, the proof of one’s humanness.  But although it is not caused by anything pathological, it may well cause a pathological reaction; in other words,  it is potentially pathogenic.  Just consider the mass neurotic syndrome so pervasive in the young generation:  there is ample empirical evidence that the three facets of this syndrome — depression, aggression, addiction – – are due to what is called . .  the “existential vacuum”, a feeling of emptiness and meaninglessness.

It goes without saying that not each and every case of depression is to be traced back to a feeling of meaninglessness, nor does suicide   ….  


Returning to South Africa:

The development of gangs for those who were removed from District 6  in Capetown can be dated back to 1966.   The Museum records  (Caution:  “The Cause”  comes later – – to my understanding, THIS IS NOT IT!):    

On 11 February 1966 it (District 6) was declared a white area under the Group Areas Act of 1950, and by 1982, the life of the community was over.  More than 60 000 people were forcibly removed to barren outlying areas.

(Black people had been removed decades earlier.  Whites coveted the area;  “the “coloreds” were removed in 1966.  Most of the homes and buildings were bull-dozed.  The church was not.).


The memory of the “used-to-be” and loved community did not die.   Even though its inhabitants were dispersed and impoverished, post-apartheid they created this moving Museum.   They brought their old pictures.   There are ragtag pieces of paper with hand-writing and words to match the diversity of the recorders who tacked their memories to the walls and other surfaces in the church.

As mentioned,  one of those recorders helped me and my friends make sense of the gang behavior of a small group of boys from Dartmouth; that story follows.  First:

The story of the District 6 children and the rise of gangs goes like this, fleshed out and in my words:


The forced removal meant that the men could no longer walk to work.   Which meant the addition of relatively large transportation costs.  Work plus commute time meant the removal of the male influence and role in the family, the weakening of connection with him.


On break-even budgets as dock-hands, the new need to buy transportation meant that the women had to find jobs that generated cash.  One paycheque was no longer enough.  Consequence:  the women were now effectively removed and disconnected in the same way the men were removed and disconnected from the family.


The lack of local shops with fresh food, the all-consuming time demands of work and commute – – long days  – –  meant that the nutritional needs of everyone suffered significantly.

The changed structure of the economy meant there were now few caretakers, how could there be?


There was no community – – the removal from District 6 was to large settlements with many strangers.


The recorder understood the deterioration in behavior of the kids,  the roots of gang culture and its companion violence in this context:

Children pretty much had to fend for themselves.   And they did – –  in the way that was available to them.


Younger and vulnerable kids had to find protection.  The family was no longer able to provide that to them – – but gangs of kids with older ones in charge, could.   (Compare this with – – next story – –  the intervention of a mother in the Dartmouth situation.)

“Younger kids” become “older kids” and move up while new young kids come in below.   The system serves a need; it perpetuates.


The Dartmouth experience goes like this:


My friend’s son was small for his age.  His home was within walking distance of the school.   A group of three boys “from good homes in the suburbs” singled him out to be one of them, a friend.   They came home with him one lunch-time.   His Mother was happy to see him with friends and invited them to have lunch.   She is health-conscious;  they ate well.    And they came back.  This woman worked part-time;  on a noon-hour when she was not there they emptied the fridge.    The Mother sat down with her son when it became obvious that these were free-loaders, not friends.


The son’s response:  do you think I don’t know that?   Do you think I invited them?   He reluctantly told her what was happening.  They followed him out of the school and attached themselves to him.  He was forced into the spikes of a hawthorn hedge if he resisted them.  From the first day, they ran him by terrorizing him.   When she knew all this, the Mother put an end to it.


But “the gang” just moved on to another kid who lived near the school.   Both parents worked outside the home;  there were no adults in the house at lunch-time.  “The gang” ate;  they shook up pop bottles and sprayed the sticky liquid over the walls and ceiling.  Ketchup was used to make designs on the walls.  They found the assignment that their new-found “friend” had just completed in time for the teacher’s deadline.  They tore it up.   Each of these boys had material abundance at home and specifically received money to buy their lunches.


Of course,  there was discussion about going to the parents of the gang members.   Someone offered that it had been tried.  Another offered that both parents had demanding jobs;  their participation in the school community, if it happened, came in the form of a cheque.   Less important people than they had time to do the volunteer work that makes the community tick.  Another offered that anything that might be considered as criticism of one of the kids would definitely be interpreted by the parent as criticism.  No matter how tactful,  the parent would become angry and defensive of the kid, no matter what he had done.   It would be someone else’s fault.   The parents had some influence – – you don’t talk about them or their children.   There was fear of retaliation on my friends’ kids,  by the bullying boys if the parents or the school was approached.


I think the boys in Dartmouth told us something.  And the something has only worsened in the time since.  There is complexity, of course.   But we are overlooking or denying significant roots of the problem.   It is often easier to see things in the microcosm (Dartmouth and a 3-member gang) than it is to observe in the macro.   The  gang in Dartmouth  had a number of factors in common with the gang members in the re-settlement of District 6.   An economic structure that achieves “growth” on the backs of the children.


William Golding’s Lord of the Flies – – even boys from English private schools don’t retain the veneer of civilization in which they’ve been steeped, when left to their own devices.

The wisdom recorded in the District 6 Museum is that children need the protection and guidance of a community of adults.  If they don’t receive that, they must find ways to protect themselves, and they do, simple as that.   The gang, the tribe, extracts a heavy price for its protection.


 The problem is not the kids.   It is the adults.  

Viktor Frankl:   I recommend that the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast be supplemented by a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

As I read it, the American dream of “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of happiness” has created what is more accurately described as a nightmare.

Frankl:   Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.   

Chinua Achebe (now deceased) was interviewed by the BBC in 2008.   He clarifies:

1.    The culture that children are immersed in will be reflected in the children of that culture.   

It is not the kids, the gang members, who created our culture.  The adults did – – whether through inaction, or through participation.

In Achebe’s words:

. . .  actually the story of Okonkwo (his book, “Things Fall Apart”) is almost like a parallel story to the story of his community.    His community is not very gentle in its behavior.  The cruelty that we see in Okonkwo is actually a reflection of cruelty in the society itself.    The crimes Okonkwo commits, in the sort of cosmic sense, the crime against women – –  in a way his community is also guilty of this.  It’s not  a question of which one was it that caused the falling apart.  It’s this complex of events.  And then you add onto it the invasion of the community by Europe (and later American imperialism).  So it’s when you put all this together that you say, this is why things fall apart   


2.    There is a failure in Leadership:

QUESTION:   . . .   And I just wanted to know what you attribute as the reason for things falling apart in present-day Nigeria? 

ANSWER:   My analysis is that it’s bad leadership.    By leadership I don’t mean just one person, the president or the prime-minister, but I mean a whole class of leaders,  leaders in different spheres who have fallen short of their responsibility.   If you look at what is going on now in Nigeria I sometimes wonder   Where are the people?  I mean educated people.  Nigeria has the resources, human and material,  to a degree that would make many, many countries envious  and yet   why are they allowing themselves to be bullied,  to be  bullied by one dictator or a bunch of dictators?   I don’t know   I think we have not got it right.

Our “leaders” and “influential people” by-and-large come from the Universities – – the “educated people” who Achebe refers to.

Have a look at this failure in leadership, if you can stomach it:   2016-10-20 University of Ottawa won’t commit to investigating sexualized pub crawl


Returning  to the stew we feed our children and the reminder that our economy is based on “rich or poor” measured by what goes through the cash register:

The absence of a connected and effective  community of adults, the caretakers of the kids, means a severance in transmission of knowledge from one generation to the next.   The knowledge of what’s important in life.

The question has been thought about by people for literally thousands of years.  Some of the thinkers were and are pretty smart people.   But even without them,  we know.   The ponderings that have been accepted and that have endured, that have been passed down generation-to-generation for literally centuries – –   as far as I can see,  all have arrived at what is basically the same conclusions when answering “what’s important in life”?   The invention of cash registers did not change the conclusions.

If we break the inter-generational transmission and enactment of that knowledge,  if we instead feed our kids the stew of violent sexualized western pop culture,  that is what kids will reflect back to us – – our culture.

Canadian culture, for as long as I’ve known, has been summarized as “Peace, Order and Good Governance“.    Our kids probably think it’s “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness”.  A hedonistic failing state having its last orgy judging by the U of Ottawa video.   I remind myself of all the wonderful young people I know who will be as disturbed as I am by the U of Ottawa.   They, too, are our culture being reflected back to us.   If we don’t engage alongside them in a renewal process,  the descent swamps the boat.

To attain the passing grade, maybe we should all start by reading    Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl  (short and cheap!).      Or, try The Meaningful Man, a CBC podcast about Frankl’s work, I highly recommend it.   See  Viktor Frankl   – – I will continue to add items.   At the top of the page:

It did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us.  We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead to think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our answer must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.”


The children of District 6 absorb imported western pop culture through ubiquitous television and electronic devices, their “baby-sitters” by necessity.   “Poor” homes almost all have TV’s.   Our culture has been swamped by the material and meaningless, normalized in North America, inescapably violent.   The documentary film “Bowling for Columbine” by Michael Moore which followed the first of the murderous attacks on school children in the U.S.  masterfully portrayed, if you wanted to see it, the systemic but veiled violence in “American” culture.  The film identifies root causes.   Judging by the results – –  the thought and resources that went into the film were a wasted effort by Moore.


The evolution of gangs is a symptom of our failures – – the adults.  The situation at the U of Ottawa reflects the failures of adults.   We are the ones responsible for rearing our children.

Rachel Carson observed:   Those who dwell…among the beauties and mysteries of the earth are never alone or weary of life.

The Africans provide insight.   But do we want to acknowledge or to learn?    Denial is an obstacle to addressing the growth of violence that comes with gangs in our communities.


I recently read  Midnight in Mexico: A Reporter’s Journey Through a Country’s Descent into Darkness,  2014,  by Mexican-American  Alfredo Corchado.

Mexico is our partner, along with the U.S., in NAFTA.  This book does an excellent job of presenting the Mexican experience of gangs grown so large that they go by a different name:  cartels.  We know of the violence in the U.S..  Canadians are skating on very thin ice if we think we can “leave it to police to deal with”.

The lessons make clear that the Police are unfairly tasked with solving the gang problem.   It is a societal problem.   The “economy” was created by us.  We are creatures molded by our economy.  It can be changed by us.   It SHOULD be changed if it is not serving us well.  The wisdom of the ages is that “things” are not the answer.   Yet that is the stew we feed our kids.


From the interview with the Police Officer:  the kids from the well-to-do homes seemed to participate in gangs because they are motivated “solely by greed”.   That is an imperfect answer.  What experience do they have with anything else but consumption of things?   They are rated;  they are evaluated by their “things”.  The same applies to the other kids without reference to rich or poor   As with language, they learn culture by absorbing it and then one day they emerge onto a higher plateau with an amazingly well-developed ability to spew it forth.   But what if “the who” of their being has never been a factor in their lives?   What if “the who” of their being, that has never been acknowledged or respected or even sought,  finds no meaning in our culture?   Why would they not gravitate to another culture?

It has to be a “community” of supportive adults.  The presence of adults in the home is not sufficient.   I recall a friend whose father and older brother sexually abused her when she was young   (as an adult she knew she hated her father, but she didn’t know why until the curtain lifted).  The family was European, 6 kids.  Could the Mother have found help to protect this daughter, whether or not she knew what was happening? . . .   The daughter tells the poignant memory of her Mother trying to change the family circumstances.   She packed some things in a small suitcase and was at the short picket fence before the sidewalk.  She didn’t speak English.  She had been isolated in the home looking after the children.  May not have known where to go to find help.  Her kids were crying, pleading with her not to leave.  Her shoulders stooped, her head hung down,  she waited . . .  then turned around and came back.

Today the immigrant adult in the home that speaks little English might have natural brown or dark skin, not “tanned” brown skin.  The mother has friends in her community, is living with a sister-in-law to help make ends meet, but has been struggling for a long time unsuccessfully to help her son who is addicted and in a gang, discovers that her husband is living with another woman when he goes back to China.  Seeing herself as a failure as a mother, a failure as a wife – – what does she do?

Thank-you to the Police Officer for “going public” on his work to reduce the need that kids have for gang families.   It will be to our benefit to prioritize and fulfill our responsibility to our children, which will help him find success and satisfaction, too.   So might we together achieve a passing grade.

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