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Open Letter to Gangs: Tough Is Trying to Live a Good Life

September 05, 1993|DANA PARSONS

Dear Gang Dudes,

I know some of you guys read the papers, because the cops used to gripe every time we gave you any coverage. They said reading about your exploits only encouraged you to commit more mayhem. That may have been true, but we had to let people know what was happening on the streets of their cities.

Believe me, none of us consider you guys heroic figures. I'm still waiting to read about one gang exploit that even remotely sounds heroic. You want heroic, do what those people did in Los Angeles who rescued Reginald Denny from an angry mob after he'd been beaten to a pulp.

What caught my eye recently were some remarks by police, prosecutors and judges. They acknowledged that some of you are operating out of control and that some of you have carried out especially heinous crimes to persuade people how tough you were.

I know you guys think you're tough. Individually, some of you probably are.

But when you talk about being tough--and then you translate that into making elderly people afraid to walk in their own neighborhoods or mothers afraid to take their kids to the park--you're just kidding yourselves.

There's nothing tough about intimidating old people. What's tough about scaring a mom pushing a baby stroller? What's tough about stray bullets that hit innocent people, like the young woman a couple of weeks ago standing in the parking lot at a Jack-in-the-Box? What's tough about initiating a 14-year-old kid into the gang by making him the designated shooter on a drive-by?

I suppose it's easy to consider yourself tough when you're armed to the teeth with automatic pistols. When I was a kid we knew who the real tough guys were, because they could beat the crap out of the rest of us. And they were happy to do it, no problem.

But you guys . . . you go out four or five at a time, break into someone's home, tie them up, terrorize them, assault them . . . and you think that makes you tough? That just makes you a punk.

I agree with you that it was illegal for local police to prevent you from congregating. Even though you don't seem to appreciate any of your civil rights, you're entitled to them, anyway.

But why don't you guys quit kidding yourselves? You're not protecting your neighborhoods or your manhood or your pride. Go ask your neighbors. They don't want you to protect them. Your kind of protection means they don't sit near open doors or windows.

No, you gangbangers aren't the tough guys. The tough guys are the kids who walk the gantlet every day to school, who try to knock down the good grades in class, who lug their schoolbooks home after school through the war zones. The tough guys (and girls) are the ones working a part-time job, in addition to going to school, to save money. The tough guys are the ones who resist your threats and taunts and try to keep their noses clean.

What you guys do is easy, because you've given up. Hanging out is easy. Try hanging in for a while.

It's a real shame, because you gangbangers have some talent in your midst. Some of you are good thinkers, well spoken, naturally charismatic and potential leaders.

But you quit on yourselves and on society. If we could get you all one-on-one, I suppose we could find out why. Everyone knows your strength and sense of purpose comes from your numbers, and that that forms a large part of the gang attraction. We know you get a sense of belonging and, in a weird way, some structure and discipline from the gang.

Besides, a psychologist who has talked to many of you told me once that most of you don't expect to live past 18, anyway, so it colors everything you do. Is that what it is? Not toughness, just despair behind a mask?

If you guys really want to get tough, turn it around.

Here's a scoop for you: Civilized society probably can't solve the problems you present.

Does that make you feel better? Is that what you want to hear, that we give up? So what? Then, where are you? Even if we give up, then what have you done with your lives? Are you somehow better people because the rest of us don't know how to deal with you?

Do you really enjoy it when a baby gets hit in the cross fire? Do you really feel tough knowing that little old ladies cringe behind their front doors at night?

I'm still naive enough to think if we could somehow get to you guys, one at a time, we could salvage most of you. We could help get you a life that you aren't going to get doing what you're doing now.

You guys think you're so tough? Prove it. Quit hiding behind your guns and the cover of darkness. Step out into the light.

Anybody can throw their life away. That's easy.

The hard part is trying to make something of your life.

I wonder if you guys are tough enough to do that.

Dana Parsons' column appears Wednesday, Friday and Sunday. Readers may reach Parsons by writing to him at The Times Orange County Edition, 1375 Sunflower Ave., Costa Mesa, Calif. 92626, or calling (714) 966-7821.

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