Gang members on path of 'assumed destiny' — dying by age 20

2014-02-05T00:00:00Z 2014-02-05T00:13:06Z Gang members on path of 'assumed destiny' — dying by age 20Tom Branson Special to The Times
February 05, 2014 12:00 am  • 

I retired from the Gary Police Department after 23 years as the deputy chief of police.

I was a homicide commander who supervised 10 very energetic young detectives and together we were able to exact justice for slain victims. I also was the chief investigator for the Lake County coroner's office.

I am now project director for the Lake County Sheriff's Violence Intervention Program and educate schools, churches and community groups on gang awareness. I also retired as a U.S. Marine with combat tours of Vietnam and Operation Desert Storm.

I say these things to show I have known sadness and senseless violence all too well.

In the gang world, you can be assured of three outcomes: incarceration, serious bodily injury or death. I have yet to see a successful gang member who stayed in the game.

I have had the sad experience of having to incarcerate many individuals who have followed the gang life and an even sadder experience in having heard the wail of a victim's mother who arrived at the scene of her loved one's death.

The death wail of a mother is a sound that resonates in my ears and won't go away. I also have experienced seeing many lifeless young legs belonging to young men saddled to a wheelchair for life because of an errant gunshot from a gang member's bullet.

Sadly in this day and age, society is becoming increasingly desensitized to the relentless killing of our citizens.

Children have lost connectivity with their ancestry and seem to be adrift.

The men need to get back into their homes and be fathers and not depend on mentors to fulfill their responsibilities.

The women need to have more respect for themselves and set an example for their children, so they are not tempted to join the gang life.

Children need to know they don't have to be dead or in jail as their only life path, and that there is no expiration date on dreams.

Among gang members, there is an "assumed destiny," and many have told me they don't expect to live to be 19 or 20, so they are going to ride as hard and fast as they can, while they can. They are correct; the sad reality is the average life expectancy of an active gang member is 20 years and 5 months.

Too many children fall prey to the lure of gangs because they are looking for a sense of family, love, power, money, perceived safety or some other need or want.

After all, in the grand scheme of things, one need only be reminded of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

The first four steps — physiological needs, safety needs, love and belonging needs and esteem needs — are something everyone needs and have fallen far too short for those who become gang members.

Sadly, getting to the fifth step of the need to self-actualize doesn't even come into play for most and is never achieved, due to the three consequences of gang-life destiny: incarceration, serious bodily injury or death.

There are so many shortcomings that drive young boys and girls into gang life. Serious turmoil in the home, not enough to eat, a parent or both parents on drugs and bleeding the little bit of sustenance money from the home for addictive lifestyles.

Another issue is an education system that doesn't have the patience, understanding or resources to accommodate or deal with home lifestyles that may cause a child to act out in school, and consequently the child is expelled from school and fed into the gang machine, where members are more than happy to take them in, not for love but to further their monetary gains from the sale of narcotics.

For a boy or girl who has never had enough of basic sustenance and, certainly, never the things they see others who are more fortunate to have, they will risk consequences to have them.

The gang life is appealing and seems exciting and flashy, even comforting, to those who don't have much and probably never will by their own merits. But it is a fast-moving train destined to leave the track all too soon.

Don't let gangs write the final chapter of what becomes of our youth; constant and consistent care and the all-powerful weapon of love will overcome any desire to affiliate with the gang lifestyle.

For those who have successfully broken from the gang-life grip and have gone on to find success in life, they tell me their faith in God and the fact that others did not, and have not, given up on them saved their life.

Everyone has potential, and it must be nurtured from an early age and reinforced when it becomes too challenging. We who have achieved need to look back and stop and help.

And guess what? You may be surprised to know that they can catch up with us.

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