I am no gangster.

This is true. Very true. Although I grew up on the South Side of Chicago (living in two areas that had a decent gang population), I have never been affiliated in any way, shape, or form with a gang. I have had and have friends that are in gangs. Some, my age, and others, older, most of who have abandoned that lifestyle. I’ve stuck out my hand to shake, only to have to inform the other person that I’m not in a gang. Which can be awkward, when everyone else seems to have shaken up except you.

I tell people who aren’t from Chicago that a heavy gang presence in the city makes things “different” and I know they’ll most likely never understand. There is crime everywhere. Robberies, murders, drugs, beatings, rapings, vandalism, et cetera. No matter what race, it affects nearly every community in this country. However, a child grows up on the South Side of Chicago a little differently than most. It’s one thing to have to worry about some creep in a van with the temptation of candy. It’s another to be a 12 year old boy and have to take the scenic route home because GDs(Gangster Disciples) in the area WILL recruit you. They won’t try. They will. Now, not everyone goes through this on the South, West, and some parts of the North Side. But there are gangs just about everywhere. I grew up in a middle class neighborhood, Chatham. The families were semi-affluent, and mostly professional on my particular block. Still, I was aware that I lived in an area that was the Moes territory. I wasn’t exposed to this in my household; I wasn’t even allowed to watch Boyz In The Hood or Menace II Society when I was a kid. This was almost common knowledge. It was known where gangs “resided” by a lot of people who lived far away from that lifestyle. I was never recruited, but I’ve definitely been approached several times about where I come from, or what gang I happen to claim. This happened as recently as last August. Five or six young men approached my friend and I, and we could immediately tell they were either drunk, high, or both. We were calm, but they were clearly looking for a fight. Asking us if we were GDs, most likely waiting for us to respond with whatever they considered to be the wrong answer. After realizing that we weren’t taking their bait, they walked off, stumbling. And that was a laughable instance, in my opinion.

It’s everyday in Chicago, plain and simple. Before the GDs, Black Disciples Latin Kings, Vice Lords, Spanish Cobras, BPSN, Satan’s Disciples, Four Corner Hustlers, and the Maniac Latin Disciples, there was Al Capone, Ma Barker, Bugs Moran, and Hymie Weiss. This is a city that was damn near built through corruption. Between the gangsters and the crooked politicians, it’s a wonder Chicago isn’t completely down the drain when learning its true history.

 For the record, I completely understand that gangs don’t exist only in Chicago. I understand that there is a West and East Coast, and the South, and yes, the North. I just don’t believe it’s as prevalent in those areas as it is in Chicago. Things might get hectic in SoCal or in NYC, but it’s an entirely different shindig here. Unfortunately, for so many, it’s LIFE. The colors, the way their hats are cocked, the signs, the sayings, the handshakes–it’s ingrained in so many boys, girls, men, and women. Some would tell you that they’re a member of a gang before telling you their name. They identify with their gang and fellow members like a person would with their family.

Our police department is led by a moron, Jody Weis, who knows nothing about the gangs of Chicago. He doesn’t seem to have a sense of urgency when it comes to putting a stop to the violence involving children, either. There was once a Gang Task Force, but it was disbanded for some odd, strange(possibly, cost-cutting)reason. There are a plethora of problems in Chicago, from hiring scandals to nepotism to questionable laws and tactics. Weis could more than do his part by re-assembling the task force and at least trying to slow down Chicago’s street gangs. With a mayor that was hell-bent on the Olympics, and cash cow schemes that are failing, Chicago cannot rely on Mayor Daley to pull it out of the hole. Enter, Weis.

Though it’s made more and more evident each day, it’s still sad that so many of the youth have to grow up in areas heavily populated by gangs, drugs, crime, and violence. Shame on those that turn away when made aware that the youth are being exposed to conditions that would make “less than ideal” sound like utopia. It’s tough growing up around gangs, whether you have to run, duck and dodge them or not. I think that’s why so many Chicagoans that can relate feel as if we’re a little tougher than most. But hey–I am no gangster. P.S. I miss Karen!!! P.P.S. To all of my dudes and dudettes, stay up.