No one woke up one morning and said they wanted to start a gang just out of nowhere. Issue upon issue helped shape gangs in our city, even here on the Westside.
In Los Angeles, we tend to associate gangs and crime with places such as Compton, South LA, Watts, East LA, Boyle Heights, or Inglewood. There are numerous gangs throughout these communities and these areas can be plagued by gang violence. It is easy to look at the gangs and violence and assume that’s what’s primarily wrong in those areas. But there are so many underlying factors affecting those neighborhoods and contributing to gang involvement: broken family structures, poverty, law enforcement relationships, lack of opportunities, poor education, the prison system, etc. Then there are personal issues such as a lack of acceptance, a longing to belong, suffering, or fleeing from a dysfunctional home life that play a part in joining gangs. I won’t go in to all the details about each aspect but these contributing factors have historically been present in these communities and the individuals who reside there.
So how does this information affect the Westside communities or the gangs in these areas? Wherever you have gangs, you will have these underlying issues as well. A gang member in Venice has faced similar problems to the gang member in Compton. The extent of violence may look different in those communities but there are struggles and issues each gang member faces in those areas. Venice today may not be seen as run down or poverty stricken, but the gang member most likely has come from a broken, impoverished family where they sought escape through gang culture. They’ve experienced issues with law enforcement, often long before they even entered the gang, just as the gang member in Compton has.
How does gentrification play into the lives of those who are in gangs on the Westside? Why were Blacks and Latinos forced into this poor Oakwood neighborhood where gangs ended up thriving compared to the beach side community which has been regarded as a top tourist attraction? Many minorities were not allowed to purchase homes on the beach so Oakwood was set aside for Blacks, and then Latinos later on. These restrictions were set in place long ago for minorities and now they are rapidly being pushed out, not only in Venice but other Westside communities as well.
Gangs in each neighborhood of our city were birthed out of many of these difficult issues, whether systemic or personal. No one woke up one morning and said they wanted to start a gang just out of nowhere. Issue upon issue helped shape gangs in our city, even here on the Westside. In this Youtube clip, you can hear stories from residents of the Mar Vista Gardens Housing Projects, located just west of Culver City. They explain how some of these issues have affected their lives personally.
Knowing this small bit of foundational information explains why the Westside needs the gospel to go forth to gangs in places like Venice, West LA, Culver City, Santa Monica, or Palms. When we see the difficulties and the brokenness in other parts of our city and take time to understand and learn what contributes to that, we also need to see how those same difficulties and brokenness are evident on the Westside. A Westside gang member sins the same and suffers the same as a gang member in South LA. The environments may look different and the level of violence is definitely higher in other areas nowadays, but if you talk to a gang member, no matter where they’re located, you’ll notice a lot of similarities in their stories. Not only that, if you take time to learn the history or experiences of a certain community, even here on the Westside, you can also find similarities shared with places like Compton or South LA.
Recognizing the similarities between various neighborhoods and the gang members who live there, only one message can bring transformation and hope to every neighborhood: the gospel of Jesus Christ. Problems and issues may still affect communities but Christ can transform the gang member who comes from there. Christ went to those who were poor and broken with the message of forgiveness and hope of eternal life. The Westside isn’t foreign to those who are poor and broken. Consider the Westside gang member who needs the gospel just as much as those who struggle in the inner city neighborhoods of Los Angeles. The Westside communities are home to gang members with those same struggles gang members in other parts of our city are facing. They endure suffering, they’ve been sinned against, and they themselves sin. Take the time to learn about our Westside gang neighborhoods: the history, the systemic/personal issues, why gangs formed there. Take the time to listen to the Westside gang members and the hardships they’ve gone through here in our communities: broken home life, abandonment, acceptance issues. Don’t neglect to think of your own neighborhood when gangs are mentioned. Don’t see gangs as just an inner city problem because once we do that, we wont see our neighbors who desperately need a message of hope and salvation. And remember the underlying issues that affect our Westside neighbors the same way they affect the inner city.
For further information regarding some of the issues, please check out the following links:
Danny Neiditch is the founder and CEO of Prodigal Sons, Inc. Born and Raised in LA, Danny is a diehard Dodgers, Lakers, and street tacos fan. You can find him on Twitter @dannyneiditch.