Former gang member: Violence driven by fame, status

Thomas Watkins

When we look at the violence around us, we can see a handful of cold, hard facts about it. One of those is that gang members are a huge part of the problem with violent crime. These are the lion’s share of those who are shooting people in our cities.

We’ve known this for a while now. The thing we’re not completely sure of is what to do about it.

In order to fix a problem, you have to understand the problem as completely as possible. Otherwise, you just create new ones. When it comes to gang members shooting up neighborhoods, we need to understand why.

I’ve argued it ties into our inner cities being honor cultures. However, a former gang member has a different take.

Gang member–turned–violence intervention specialist Armando Alvarez dissected the record-setting crime roiling the country Saturday on “Watters’ World.”

“I wouldn’t say … it’s the bigger profits that are driving these things. I think it’s just always been fame,” he said. “It’s always been. Everybody wants to be bigger than life. … [E]verybody wants to be on top.”

Being on top in the criminal world comes with rewards, including “nice cars,” jewelry, and romantic success, Alvarez said.

” … I think humanity has been striving [for a decadent lifestyle] from the … very beginning,” he continued. “[Since] God created Earth, … everybody’s just striving for power. Everybody’s striving to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

It’s an interesting take, and since Alvarez is from inside that world, I see no reason to think he’s wrong in any way, shape, or form.

Of course, stepping up and protecting your reputation–the epitome of what transpires in an honor culture–probably helps one reach the top, so I don’t think we’re actually disagreeing. It’s just a slightly more complex issue than just saying it’s about honor really covers.

However, that last sentence quoted is what I find intriguing. “Everybody’s striving to be a part of something bigger than themselves.”

That’s not really wrong. For me, I got that when I enlisted in the Navy. A number of my fellow vets say they enlisted for just that reason. Others seek out other groups for a similar reason.

One thing we can do is provide alternatives for these people to become part of something bigger, alternatives that don’t involve shooting the guy down the street for some reason that seems inane to everyone else.

That’s not a short-term strategy, mind you. It’s a strategy that can pay long-term dividends but won’t do a whole lot for the surging violence we see around our cities right now. It can be a single prong of a number of different approaches. It’s not enough on our own.

Still, it’s important to understand what’s going on so we can plan effective strategies in dealing with the problem in a way that truly benefits as many people as possible.

If it’s fame, status, honor, or something else, we need to know so we can provide alternatives that don’t result in dead bodies.