If you live in North Minneapolis, you’ve most likely heard about the Taliban and the One-Nine Click, you’ve heard about the Tre-Tre’s and the EMB. Last Sunday night I think I may have helped birthed the 17 – Block. We like to think of gang members as the evil “other”, but experience shows they are really just scared kids trying to survive.
Last Sunday I saw and felt some of the experiences that lead to the formation of the new style of neighborhood gangs. These neighborhood clicks are much different than the Crips and Bloods of the past. They are not part of a national system with hierarchy and regulations. They are localized groups organized for local purposes.
I’ve read about how street gangs start. I’ve heard youth tell me about why they are in a gang. I’ve see the short-term benefits gangs offer to youth and communities, yet I’ve felt the pain and destruction they bring; school drop out, fights, murder, and incarceration. What happened Sunday afternoon gave me a new awareness into the logical and emotional development of a street gang.
As I walked out of the house, I saw Ali with his older and younger brothers walking up the Avenue. Ali is about 13 and has been our neighbor since he was about four years old. His parents had immigrated to the USA from Somalia. Three other boys, I didn’t know, were walking the other way. I watched as one of these boys stopped and said something to Ali then he swung is hand around and cuffed Ali in the back of the head.
Ali’s older brother grabbed Ali and pulled him over behind him and said, “Come on, let’s go!” That’s when I realized this was no friendly confrontation. I walked across the street toward our car, but very obviously watching the situation. The boy who cuffed Ali was still faced off against him and his two friends had moved aways down the sidewalk. I was listening and yet unsure exactly what was happening. Ali and his brothers were trying to deescalate the situation, yet seeing me they knew if it flared out of control, I would defend them.
I knew this could quickly get out of hand. I stood in the street watching, yet projecting my presence and concern. I was cautious not to step between the visitor perpetrator and his friends and give them the feeling they were under attack.
Then I saw another neighbor boy, Dequan, come around the corner and up the street. We were in front of his house; he knew all of us except the visitors. “What’s going down?” He asked
The unknown boy started giving him some garbage excused about how Ali had “Come at him, looking at him wrong..”
Dequan told him, “Dang, he’s just a kid just keep walking”
“Well what bock is this?” the visitor inquired
“17th” , replied my neighbor.
“I know, but who the hell runs this block?”
“We do” Dequan replied as he cocked back his head and slyly gestured to all of us gathered around. All of us replied in unison, “We do!”
The perpetrating visitor looked around and sneered, and he walked over to his friends. “Shit…”
Dequan called out, “Now keep walking”
I talked a few moments to Dequan. Ali and his brothers indicated they were ok, and continued up the block. The three visitors walked on, turned the corner, and headed toward the park.
I got in the car with Janeen and we headed out. I drove out of my way to make sure that those boys were not circling back to get Ali or his brothers. Maybe in the future we would need to keep a better look out for each other. What would we do if they came back?
The next day I talked with Ali and his brothers as we walked to the football field, he gave me some more details about the incident, I assured him, “If they come back let me know.” We are neighbors and we need to look out for each other.
“Neighbors protecting each other” is often the basis for formation of a street gang. I recently attended a workshop led by a former gang leader. He highlighted that gangs, in recent times, and from the beginning of history, have formed in response to the following:
• Marginalization of a group
• Removal of resources for success and security
I can easily understand, if I felt I had no access to power, no assured protection from the police, and no other ready options; we would have to form our own click, our own possee, it wouldn’t be wrong – it would only be reasonable.
We didn’t start “17th-Block”… but we are more vigilant. I hope and pray all the fellas on my block know access to the resources and the connections needed to succeed and have security. That is the cornerstone of community.