In this week’s episode of the Global News original podcast, This is Why, we hear from a former gang member who explains that once children are recruited, it can be extremely difficult to leave the gang. And with easy access to criminality, and the products gangs are selling, life can deteriorate quickly.
“When you’re selling drugs, you might become addicted to drugs, as I was. That escalated very quickly, from weed to heroin, and I was only a 14-year-old kid. In order to feed those habits, crime went through the roof. I was stealing cars, systems out of cars, wheels off cars – anything that wasn’t tied down. And that was all to supply my habit,” said the former gang member, whose identity is concealed.
James Dubro, an analyst and author on the topic of organized crime, told This is Why host Niki Reitmayer that gangs portray a desirable lifestyle to children as part of the recruitment process. Gangs also may show kids a level of respect they’re perhaps not getting from other adults in their lives.
“It’s cool when you’re 11 or 12 to smoke a bit of pot and do transgressive things. Usually, the gangs will provide the drugs, and the kids get to like the cool lifestyle. They see the gangsters driving nice cars with their pretty girlfriends, and the kids are treated well so they feel that’s where they’ll get respect. A lot of kids are recruited that way – being groomed, as it were,” Dubro said.
The former gang member whom we spoke to says the consequences soon add up. He admits to committing vicious beatings, and saw himself as an “enforcer.”
“I was in and out of jail. Then you start going to adult jail for longer sentences. Now, you’re with killers and rapists. Before you know it, you begin to fit in, in order to survive. You take on that chicken-coop mentality, that gangster mentality. That disregard for everything that’s right.
“You’re sitting around with a bunch of people talking about who’s getting clipped next. When your friends start killing your other friends – you don’t need to worry about rival gangs or the cops — it’s the guy sitting next to you. You think it’s about brotherhood and solidarity, but it’s about treachery, and I got sick of seeing that,” he added.
The former gang member spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, as “ratting or snitching is something you could get killed for.” He can count up to a dozen of his friends who have died as a direct result of their involvement in gang activity and says his mental health continues to suffer as a result of his experiences.
In Toronto, there have been over 200 shootings in the city so far this year, 24 of which were fatal. On the eve of Canada Day, two were killed and another injured in a daylight shooting in the heart of Toronto’s entertainment district, as shocked tourists, diners, and pub-goers looked on.
A report released by the City of Surrey, B.C., this week showed that gangs are recruiting kids as young as 10 to deliver their drugs. The publication of the report follows the shooting of two teenagers last month, who were found dead on a Surrey street.
The report by Surrey’s Task Force on Gang Violence Prevention identified a number of factors that can make children susceptible to gang recruitment. They include:
- Trauma or domestic abuse
- Substance use
- Lack of parental involvement
- Peers or family involved in crime
- Lack of positive friendships
- No positive adult role models
- Cultural identity issues
- Mental health and behaviour issues
- Perceived glamour, status and desire for money
- Lack of fear of consequences or enforcement
- Neighbourhood influences
- They owe the gang money and are threatened with violence if they do not repay the debt
What’s behind the flare-up in gang activity in some of our country’s biggest cities, and what lessons can former gang members teach us so we can break the cycle of criminal activity on our streets? That’s the focus of this week’s edition of the Global News original podcast, This is Why.
John O’Dowd is a co-producer on This is Why and Alan Regan is a producer for Global News Radio 980 CKNW.