World of Gangs

1 January 2017

Hagedorn’s book A World of Gangs he states, “An increasingly frustrated and demoralized population will reluctantly turn to armed non-state actors who can provide security of a sort, a sense of identity, perhaps the sole local supply of jobs, and rudimentary services that the state cannot or will not offer” (Hagedorn p. 21). This notion is supported when one analyzes and considers the story of the Hamburg’s and the Conservative Vice Lords of Chicago.

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Consider the following; during the industrial era many newly freed slaves of the South moved North into industrialized cities looking to build a better future, rather than having their kids become accustomed to the same racism they dealt with day in and day out in the South. At that same time, many ethnic white people that were native to the same industrialized cities in the North were drafted to the military and sent to war (WW2). The void left by the white men going to war opened up many jobs for the new comers from the South, and brought them what they came for, a better life.

However, when the war ended and soldiers returned to their homes they were furious when the saw that African Americans had taken their jobs. Believe it or not, this ultimately led to the birth of gangs in the North. It started with the Irish, who were the first to establish a prominent political/street or “a civic minded” gang called The Hamburg’s. They quickly re-dominated the job market once again, through political solidarity and conventional resources. This left the once employed African Americans to be confined to their ghettos and jobless.

The blacks thought if the Irish could solidify and take over the city then why couldn’t they do the same? Blacks tried to unify a base and created their own politically and civic-minded organization called the Conservative Vice Lord (CVL) program. They Elected leaders of their group and became affiliated with politics. They figured that since they were following in the footsteps of the Hamburg’s, the Irish would welcome them in with open arms and “hugs” and “kisses”, but they were very wrong. “…it sure wasn’t hugs and kisses that made up the machine’s (Hamburg’s) response; it was war” (Hagedorn p. 8). The CVL were quickly shot down because the Hamburg’s were in every position of power and influence that controlled the city, as well as the CVL’s once all-powerful political leaders, even though they were in it to do good deeds for their community, were gunned down or locked up. The Hamburg’s, then systematically also cut off all funding to the institution, and methodically began the process of demoralizing the CVL. Without financial aid from the government and lack of jobs in the community the CVL could only turn to illegitimate, illegal and sometimes violent means to support their club.

It started with drug sales outside of the vice lord’s community, they wanted to protect their neighborhoods and their own kin. That was the case for a short period of time. Soon enough, the drug sales found their way back home and black ghettos became filled with drug enterprises distributing all over their own turf. People in their community started to become users and this led to dysfunctional families where the mom is a drug addict and dad is in jail for being apart of the gangs that distribute and make their money off of the only line of work that was available to them.

With the drug game being dominated primarily by males, women sought income too by selling their bodies to prostitution. That said, the economic factors were not the primary drivers of CVL into the drug business, other contributing factors were the deterioration of their Lawndale community, caused by deindustrialization that drove the CVL to a third world trajectory of social exclusion (Hagedorn p. 83). The Hamburg’s (HAA) enjoyed a much different outcome.

In essence, the CVL became isolated due to no political, police and/or social acceptance. This is the defining role of modern day demoralization in ghettos all across the world. “Nihilism” can be defined as lifelessness, hopelessness, loveless-ness and gang based mentality (“No matter how bad I got it I’ll always have something”). Cornel West states, “Nihilism among African Americans spread after the 1960s, though most feel that its roots go all the way back to the time of slavery and years and years of racism” (Hagedorn p. 57).

He goes on to say that, “…the hope of the 60’s was blown up when the US government failed to live up to its promises of the war on poverty” (Hagedorn p. 57). For example, these nihilistic fallacies are expressed by famous rapper Kanye West in a hit song, “Cuz when you try hard, that’s when ya die hard” his meaning being what’s the point of trying in a white dominated country where if I try my hardest, in the end you will just be left more disappointed due to no acceptance. This led to African Americans feeling cynical about freedom.

In the video Bloods and Crips: “Made in America” it was clear that gangs replaced immediate families, were about unity and gave members a sense of purpose that they had lost as a result of social exclusion and other educational, occupational, and economical opportunities. Question #2: Discuss the significance of Manuel Castell’s “devastating picture of the polarization and social exclusion of the Fourth World” and are the concepts of “institutionalization” and “defensible spaces”, for understanding the history of gangs in Chicago, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro.

Social exclusion and economic polarization are key elements in what Castell says are policies aimed at the dismantling of the welfare state in the US and the West. He says that “when the state can no longer provide adequate employment, protection, services, or security for expanding, closely tied and quartered urban populations that the potential for illegitimate forces of violent, private groups can and will move in to fill the void. ” (Hagedorn p. ) According to Manuel Castell and John Hagedorn major gangs that have been around for decades have spread outside their original neighborhoods, and have evolved from wild peer groups to organized criminals with a gang identity are labeled or defined as “institutionalized”. Gangs are considered institutionalized because they are continually increasing the members in their group and have some sort tie to their community. They are impossible to remove, because their members and those, or the youth, that will ultimately become their members have no other options.

The fact is they have been around and exist for years and years. Some may raise the question, “Well, if you incarcerate the top dog or the kingpin wont everything just fall apart”? The answer is no. Many gangs of today and also in the past are highly decentralized. This means that they are not laid out in a bureaucratic or hierarchical fashion; there is not one chief at the top of the pyramid and many foot soldiers below. Hagedorn states that, “Institutionalized gangs are not merely an expendable tool of dynamic leaders or sustained only by profits of drug sales.

These gangs are living organisms instilling in their members, as well as the community, a belief in the organization itself” (Hagedorn p. 9). Its like a tradition that is handed down from generation to generation. Defensible Spaces can be defined as areas or communities in which those who do not live in that community do not want to be visited by the general public or police. This creates an invisible barrier where these communities become safety nets for gang bangers, drug dealers, prostitutes etc. here they consciously know that they can commit a violent, crime with little chance of getting caught. The business of the gang can be managed unencumbered. As described in the movie Bloods and Crips: Made in America, there was an invisible line drawn right through the center of south LA, one side being black and the other white. With a police force of predominately white male officers their inclination was to patrol and keep safe the people of their own community and leave the poor black communities to fend for themselves.

The fact that the gangs in Chicago, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro were able to sell drugs within defensible spaces allowed them to institutionalize. Whether in housing projects or favelas (as they are know in Rio de Janeiro) the affect was the same, it provided a safe haven from police. In Chicago, dense and crowded projects provided a defensible space for gangs to carry out their drug trafficking without the threat of police activity. In Rio de Janeiro, on the other hand, they built their favelas in the mountains, this location separated them from exotic beaches and provided natural barrier.

Their buildings were very close and tight quartered living conditions made it easier for them to keep their trafficking under the radar, another benefit to this was that they could see police coming to from a far so they used tactics similar to the military to alert everyone in the favelas to take cover and hide all incriminating evidence. In Cape Town, the gangs control the turf, not the police; and it has been that way for many generations.

It is clear as Hagedorn points out that, “defensible spaces appear to be important conditions for the institutionalization of gangs” (Hagedorn p. 15). In conclusion, the history and perseverance of gangs in Chicago, Cape Town, and Rio de Janeiro lead one to conclude that even if conditions change overtime, gangs are able to adapt to these circumstances, and make due with resources given. Also, a loss of leadership to prison or death will not deter their ability to adapt and thrive in the changing environment around them.

Question #3: Why does Hagedorn argue that hip-hop and its gangsta rap variant are cultural answers to the permanence of racism and oppression, and have become a “contagious culture of rebellion” that expresses a “resistance identity” for youth worldwide? Rap and hip-hop are the base of the contagious culture of rebellion. This is true because the certain kind of music that African Americans portray is how they are affiliated with their community, it is how they express themselves and how ‘they’ see themselves not by how others project statistics and how they see things.

Hip-hop would give people that lived in ghettos a sense of hope and helped take their mind off of their nihilistic thoughts of how they live. Complementing my last statement, Afrika Bambaattaa, respectfully known as the “grandfather” to the origination of hip-hop once stated, “When we made hip-hop, we made it hoping it would be about peace, love, unity and having fun so that people could get away from the negativity that was plaguing our streets” (Hagedorn p. 93).

Bambaattaa’s goal was to pull kids from the self-hatred and destructive behavior that is an all-too common response to poverty and racism (Hagedorn p. 95). With this insight from an innovator of hip-hop culture we can point out that hip-hop was more positive than negative because it had the capacity to point kids into a better direction and change their lives. On the other hand gangsta rap, which is actually a subgenre of hip–hop was more hardcore in the fact that MC’s rapped about how they lived and put into perspective how they thought about the public, government, police etc.

With popularity in this specific area of music and culture there was money to be made and the ghettos where these rap artists were derived from did not see much of this profit, the liberal white businessmen saw money signs so they had the financial ability to exploit this lifestyle. Therefore gangsta rap skyrocketed in all musical polls all across the country; not only was it was it residing in ghetto communities that were listening to this contagious music and lifestyle, it was actually aimed mostly towards affluent white teenagers that fantasized about exotic experience of thug life.

The most power that comes with this mass spread of negative violent genre topping music boards is that it gave many people across the country the mindset of “I’m going to get rich, or die trying” (50 Cent). This quote made famous by African American rapper Curtis Jackson (50 Cent), did not show people of color to condone themselves into the drug market and gang life but provoked it.

Curtis Jackson, or 50 Cent, is known for being one of the richest rappers in the game and he was able to do so by exploiting this kind of behavior amongst African Americans all across the country. If blacks were not going to be accepted at a political level or white America’s standard of business they would make their own business, derived from their own community, lifestyle, and how they went about their everyday life facing racism and oppression from society, police, and government. Every day black males face a culture that tells them that they can never really achieve enough money or power to set them free from racist white tyranny in the work world” (Hagedorn p. 104). This is why so many African Americans nowadays that come from a childhood filled with sex, drugs, and violence speak out about what they are going through in spite that they will someday be the holder of the money and the power.

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