Most of us aren’t exposed to the gang world other than watching documentaries on cable. Even if you live or have lived in gang riddled neighborhoods, you probably don’t see or know much about them. I myself grew up in a bad neighborhood where gang members were present, but I rarely if ever had any run ins with them. I was fortunate. I’ve seen a lot of documentaries on the History Channel and A&E just to educate myself; I have been to classes during and after my academy training that focused on gangs.
Since I worked at a minimum security jail during my time in custody operations, I didn’t have much exposure to inmates that were gang members.
I got my first real glimpse into the underworld of gangs during bailiff training when I got to court operations. I was on my first of two jury trials on my training phase. It was a real shocker to me for many reasons: I learned that the defendant or defendants have to be free from handcuffs regardless if they are in custody, this was because it would be prejudicial for a jury to see someone shackled in handcuffs. This particular case involved a suspected gang member,  charged with attempted murder against two victims from rival gangs with multiple gang enhancements and weapons charges. This defendant was held on a Million dollars bail. He was accused of walking up to the victims with a fellow gang member and shooting both victims non fatally and then running away.
During the trial, the District Attorney or DA had to prove that the crime was gang related and was done for the benefit of the gang. This was done through a gang investigator/expert. Their testimony is where you learn a lot about gang culture, who they are, how they operate and why they do it. Gangs work on fear and intimidation, they care a lot about so called “Respect” to get respect, they need to commit criminal acts on behalf of the gang, back up fellow gang members of they are in a fight and other related activities. Gangs are involved in many different types of crimes from drug trafficking, human trafficking, theft, fraud, racketeering, corruption, extortion, assault, to murder. They are in every sense of the word, terrorists.
To join a gang, one has three options: they are either walked in by a family member already in the gang; or they are crimed in by committing a crime in behalf of the gang, and lastly they could be jumped in. Once in, it is very difficult, sometimes impossible to leave.
Gangs cases are very difficult for prosecutors to obtain a conviction. This is due to the nature of gang cases; most victims and witnesses are intimidated from testifying against a gang member for the fear of retaliation and in some cases, like this one, the victims are also gang members from a rival gang who will not snitch even if it is against a rival gang member who literally tried to kill them years before. Serious cases like these take years to get to the actual jury trial. Both victims are only alive because of poor shot placement and small caliber bullets used. Without any testimony placing the defendant at the scene, the jury found the defendant not guilty and they were released hours after the verdict. I can only hope that the defendant turned his life around and left the gang life behind him. He did spend two years in jail awaiting this trial and hopefully that was enough. On another note, this is why it is so important to carry off duty, there were numerous gang members present in the courtroom throughout the trial. They all know what I look like, while I probably won’t remember most of their faces on the street.
I have seen many more gang related cases come through and in my opinion, gang members are cowardly street terrorists who degrade the quality of life in their communities, forcing those who are law abiding citizens to live in constant fear every day and night. There are really two outcomes that the life of a gang member may have: to be in prison most, if not for the rest of their lives; or to be killed by a rival gang or their own.
Pretty much, what you see on the documentaries are true. Gang life is something that is hard to understand because most people are not a part of this underworld of crime. It is a major problem in almost every city in the United States. The best way to fight it is prevention because as you can see, once they’re a gang member, they’ll most likely be in for life.

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