|Montreal, August 3, 2002 / No 107|
by Harry Valentine
Recent news media reports have carried items pertaining to senseless and unprovoked acts of violence being committed by youth gangs in Canada. The scenario often involves a gang of teenagers swarming an often solitary victim and committing assault upon him. These attacks are usually occurring off school property and the victim is usually unknown to the attackers.
Sometimes the motivation for the attack is to obtain some property from
the victim; however, many senseless and unprovoked attacks left the victim
with their property, but in urgent need of emergency hospital treatment.
In almost all teenage gang attacks, the assault continued and even intensified
after the victim was down on the ground and losing consciousness. Such
unprovoked violent attacks on people had previously occurred in and around
the ghetto areas of American inner cities, often involving street gangs.
Several notorious youth gang assaults have occurred in the Vancouver/Victoria areas of British Columbia, one infamous attack involving female attackers and resulting in the drowning death of the female victim, Reena Virk. Other attacks have left victims brain damaged or severely emotionally traumatized. Consumption of drugs and alcohol has often, but not always preceded the violent gang behaviour. The question left unanswered is why.
Emotionally deprived kids
Several years ago, a professor at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, undertook a study into one of the social/racial groups being oppressed by that country's apartheid regime. One of the significant aspects of this study was that it focused on how state behaviour had affected that particular group. The study revealed that members of this group were frequent victims of unprovoked acts of violence, usually involving gangs from the same social/racial group. These hideous acts included stabbings, robbery and rape. As part of the study, Prof. Brian Rees undertook to become personally acquainted with members of the gangs, to find out more about their backgrounds and motivations. Rees was from a different social/racial group as the gang members, who initially treated him with caution and trepidation. He eventually gained the confidence and trust of a few, enabling him to identify relevant common factors pertaining to the backgrounds of various gang members.
The apartheid regime had created groups and sub-groups of people, including dispossesed or outcast elements. Young girls born into outcast sub-groups had little or no education. Despite an absence of state welfare programs, they gained status amongst their peers by becoming mothers. The ability to bring forth life was something significant, despite them being emotionally unprepared to nurture and raise an infant. They depended on charitable hand-outs and scavenging for survival. Fathers of the offspring were often both physically and emotionally absent. The mothers usually lacked the necessary parental skills to care for their infants, whom they rarely caressed but often neglected or abused. Gentle caressing and touching of these infants was quite rare.
Observations have been done on infant monkeys which had been deprived of gentle maternal nurturing such as touching, holding and caressing. As these monkeys matured, they became depressed and easily turned violent with little, if any provocation. Young boys raised without fathers in emotionally deprived homes by single, immature and emotionally cold single mothers revealed similar behavioural patterns as touch deprived monkeys. They had a predisposition for violent and rebellious tendencies, usually gravitating into gangs at a young age.
Harvard University psychology professor Dr. Barry Gordon stressed in his book, Your Father Your Self, the important emotional role played by fathers in the development of growing children, both male and female. A gang of male comrades substitutes for the role of the absent father, though very destructively. Acceptance into a gang often requires some form of initiation in which a prospective member has to prove his loyalty to other gang members. Some initiations require that a prospective gang member commit an act of robbery or violence, acts which earn the gang member higher status amongst peers. The South African study indicated that drug and alcohol use was rampant among gang members.
The absent father and gang membership was one of the common threads being shared by gang members. In the gang, each member had the experience of a sense of acceptance, a sense of status. An act of ruthlessness or violence allowed individual members to earn a sense of recognition and affirmation from the gang. The extreme violent behaviours such as unprovoked gang assaults on innocent solitary victims, or repeatedly assaulting a victim who is on the ground and injured, reinforced this sense of being one of the group.
Looking for status and acceptance
Such unprovoked attacks are now occurring in Canadian cities. Teenage acquaintances of the attackers have been interviewed by the news media, in the hope of providing some insight as to what factors may have provoked such attacks. Youths who have been interviewed by CTV's W5 program about such attacks have admitted that drugs and/or alcohol had been consumed prior to such attacks occuring. The attackers who initiated such assaults were usually the products of dysfunctional or broken homes. The less aggressive attackers who continued assaulting an injured or incapacitated victim were reported to be doing so to acquire peer recognition, approval, validation, status and acceptance. Personal interviews with police acquaintances have revealed that certain types of drugs do seem to lower inhibitions while also increasing aggressive and violent behavioural tendencies. State drug laws have actually resulted in more potent strains of drugs becoming available, at higher prices. Both the increased drug potency and the higher drug prices actually do contribute to an increase in direct and indirect drug-related crimes.
The state in Canada, the USA and in the UK will try to absolve itself of causal responsibility as far as the outbreak of youth violence is concerned. State welfare programs in these three countries gave rise to an explosion of teenage motherhood over the past 25 years ago. Their children are the ones who rarely have contact with their fathers and become prone to gang membership and drug addiction at a young age. Compulsory school attendance laws concentrate large numbers of youths from similar dysfunctional family backgrounds into common locations at the same time. After gangs of such youth evolve in schools and in communities, they may prey on other, more vulnerable peers. A suicide note written by a Nova Scotia teenager during early 2002 led to an investigation in which a news reporter writing for The Globe and Mail uncovered the presence of a youth extortion gang operating in a high school as well as in the surrounding neighbourhood. This revelation literally caught school officials as well as the RCMP by surprise, as neither were aware of such gang activity prior to the youth's suicide.
While Canadian statistics on youth crime indicate an overall drop in the youth crime rate, there has been an increase in the violence involving youth crime. Canada's Young Offenders Act restricts the kinds of penalties that can be imposed on young offenders during their early and middle teen years. Most young offenders already know that the justice system is a revolving door and that the hands of the police are tied as far as their behaviour is concerned. In Canada, an offender can commit a crime in the morning, be arrested shortly after, be in temporary custody by the noon hour and then be out free by dinner time. The federal government is in no great hurry to amend the Young Offenders Act. As long as the state disregards its causal responsibility for many of the problems the society endures, the problem of youth gang violence will continue.
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