Combatting Gangs With A Positive Message

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We at ideastream have been looking recently at the issue of gangs in Cleveland. Last week ideastream's Tony Ganzer looked into their social media footprint, this morning we had a conversation about gangs on The Sound of Ideas, and now we'll hear from Richard Starr. He is 25, and he and his family have had much experience with gangs. His brother was affiliated with the Heartless Felons gang, and is now doing 17 years in prison. Starr changed his life through the Boys and Girls Club, and is now assistant director of a club on Cleveland's East Side.

STARR: “As a kid I thought being a part of the King Kennedy Gang, or just claiming King Kennedy, was the only thing I could do. If I’m a part of King Kennedy that means I’m wanted, I’m loved, I’m able to make money, I’m able to do anything. But not knowing that if it was a case that I passed away, or was killed, would those guys be there to take care of my mom? My brothers and sisters? No, so it was like, do I really want to be known for being this strong guy named cocky Richard who beat on people, abused kids, punished people, but at the end of the day…I’m smart, I’m graduating with a 3.6, I’m captain of my football team, class president, prom king, homecoming king…but I want to be part of the gang? It didn’t add up.”

GANZER: “The gang we hear about most recently are these Heartless Felons out on the streets, and I spoke with people with the city, the Peacemakers Alliance, and they said that this gang really is all over Cleveland and it really is a problem. Can you talk about the challenges you see kids are facing, the pressures?”

STARR: “It’s the number one gang. Everyone wants to be a part of it. Do they know that it originated from jail? Do they know most of the members started the gang in jail as far as a gang in order for them to feel protected? Kids really don’t know the background of the gang, they’re just joining it and then they find out there’s more than just saying ‘I’m HF’ or throwing up the different gang signs on the social media networks, telling everybody I’m this and that. This is a full-out large gang, in which you have to do stuff to be a part of it. You may have to go ahead and take this dude out, or have to put your hands on somebody just to be a part of it. Most of them started in jail, so it’s like ‘hey, what’s it to do another bid [in jail].’ That’s when you get the guys, or the kids, or the members of gangs that constantly go in and out of jail, because they’re coming up with plans on what they’re going to do when they get out and what will end them back up in jail. So are we rehabilitating them by locking them up, or are they going back to jail, linking up with more people, and making the gang even larger?”

GANZER: “We see gang activity on social media, like you said, and of course we’re seeing it on the streets, too. So your kids coming into the clubs, they are getting this propaganda from all directions, online and offline. Can you talk about how they’re having to filter through that stuff to get to the positive message?”

STARR: “Having positive resources, such as the Boys and Girls club. Knowing that hey, I can come to the club with any problem, Mr. Rich or any staff member can help me deal with it, is a great way for a kid to understand hey I don’t have to do this. Because every day they’re living in these neighborhoods. Not everyone has the resources or the economics to move out of a certain neighborhood just so their kids won’t be around violence, so their kids won’t be faced with the issues and the problems every day of joining a gang, or being affiliated with a gang. So things I believe we need to do, is make sure that we lead the kids we have here daily in the right direction, saying this is not what you need to be a part of. Want me to tell you why? Because Mr. Rich has been down there. Do you want me to show you? I could show you. I could call people up, I could have them sit down to talk to you. I could [give] you tours through these hoods that you think are so gangster that you want to be a part of, I could show you the lifestyle you really don’t want, but at the end of the day it is up to us to teach the kids right so they won’t make that decision. So when they have to make that decision: do I want to go positive, or do I want to be negative? Do I want to be a gang, or do I want to be a doctor?”

GANZER: “You talked about what a challenge it is, especially with the Heartless Felons. Are we moving in a positive direction now, do we still need…”

STARR: “We need a ton of work. The Heartless Felons are growing by the seconds, minutes, hours, days. When you think about it the Heartless Felons started in jail, how is it now the gang is being run in the city and not in jail? That’s an interesting question. You start a gang in jail, now you look up and you have kids who have never been in jail saying they’re HF, they’re a Heartless Felon. 13-year-old boys, never did any juvi time, never did anything, but guess what they’re putting it in social media, on their bios. But do they really know? No.”

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