11.09.2008

Suburban Terrorism

I have taken to thinking of the local gangs as suburban terrorists. Not ideologically motivated America haters, they are more inclined to be angry youth with no real future (poor education, not smart enough for college, crappy home lives, etc.) so they turn to gangs where they have friendship and are part of something bigger than they are. They have a calling, even if that calling is to be the dregs of society squabbling over one run down street and terrorizing the people who have to live there.

The jury I was selected to sit on earlier this week involved a gang robbery that either went bad or was planned to go bad. In the end, the guy pulling the trigger got sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. At no time during his trial, which I was not involved in, did he show any remorse for having blown another human being's head off with a sawed off shotgun. The two boys with him were the subjects of the case I was being selected for.

I spent two days hearing just the top level information about the crime and I got to hear an awful lot of testimony from prospective jurors about the impact of the gangs in their lives. From the juror in front of me who's cousin was murdered earlier this month (another stabbing) to the father of teenaged boys who was compelled to prepare for WW III after his boys got into something with some bangers at a local pool hall that resulted in their car being seriously vandalized. To another who'd had a shotgun pointed at his own head some years before.

The means by which the gangs operate is to overwhelm with numbers, to intimidate, to attack the affiliated and the unaffiliated.

I should note that the violence is largely restricted to their peers, other younger people doing nothing but passing their days (i.e. not continuing with school and working crappy dead end jobs if they even have those). But they don't really draw a hard line at limiting their aggression towards those in gangs. Recently a 14 year old boy was confronted by 5 gang bangers, they demanded his affiliation and, when he told them he wasn't in a gang, they proceeded to kick the holy shit out of him and stabbed him a few times for good measure.

The result, to me, is that I feel a constant low level of danger. I distrust anyone wearing a bright red or blue hat (they tend to the hats as they are probably easier to remove and stow when a cops cruises by), most especially when they are part of a pack of four or five kids.

And, in conversations with my wife, I'm coming to realize that there is a long term detrimental effect that is probably similar to post-traumatic stress syndrome but without the initial trauma.

I've never been jumped, I've never had a gun pointed at me here (I did have a gun pointed at me in South Africa years ago but I don't think the two are connected at all). I've never been the victim of a gang-related crime. And my wife thinks that my perspective is unwarranted and sows fear. She may be right. But I am having an extraordinarily difficult time separating my concerns from the true level of risk and danger.

She thinks that I should adopt the same attitude I have taken in regards to reading my brother's travel blog. That it upsets me less to know in the abstract what a fabulous travel experience he and his family are having, how much money he has and can spend on their journey. I wish I could read his blog and stay current on their travels without feeling the sting of the have-not and the cannot.

She has recommended that I avoid the Cops & Courts section of the Sentinel. But I'm not sure how much of an effect that would have because I live where I cross paths with gang bangers several times a day. I see them when they drop off their kids at my school, they live down the street from me, I walk my dog in the slough and they come swaggering through (though they do not even think of giving me trouble because most of them are very afraid of dogs and my dog is a flipping big and scary one). I might be able to limit the knowledge of particulars but I don't see how it would be possible to alter my reality without moving to a perceptibly safer area.

And I know that a good portion of my fears are wrapped up in the optionless position we are in. Our house is so badly undervalued now that selling is absolutely not an option. And, even if it were, I don't make anywhere near enough money to save to put together a down payment on another house even if we could afford a full-sized mortgage. We are, literally, stuck between a too-high mortgage and a too-low income.

I don't have a solution but I'm willing to entertain ideas. How do you deal with a situation where you do not feel you have options and are oppressed by the situation? What would you do if you were me? How would you create a more harmonious and less fearful close-in reality (I'm not stupid enough to think I can change the town)? I know other blogging friends live in tough areas, how do you cope with it?

I apologize for the length of this post. I could continue on with details, instances where I've felt personally threatened and the like but I think the basic structure is in place, there should be a reasonably good understanding of what our day-to-day existence is like.

How would you address it?
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