The Bloods and the Crips are not the only players on the streets of St. Louis.
By Kristen Farrah
ST. LOUIS – Matheny Miller used to make his money selling drugs, but he quickly discovered the cost of the drug trade when he lost three of his brothers to street violence.
“As we got older, [we] got with the guns,” Miller said. “In order to get guns, you need money so that’s where the drugs come in because our parents ain’t got shit.”
Miller and Shawn Torrence both grew up in St. Louis. They said they let government officials label them gang members, but would never use that term to describe their experience.
Torrence said he did not go out looking to join a gang. His group formed from the circle of kids who went to his school.
“We played together,” Torrence said. “We stealing. We rob. We smacking. We getting on girls together. It fell into the normal with me.”
Torrence said he did not have family problems, and he was not looking for love or protection. These were just his friends.
Researching the Culture
Beth Huebner studies gang and youth violence in St. Louis. She said gang involvement is a response to people wanting to be part of a family or group.
The University of Missouri St. Louis professor found that one of the prominent misconceptions in the media is that gang involvement is abnormal. She argues participation in the culture is a very normal response.
“People are afraid of being shot on the street, so they get a gun,” Huebner said. “This is understandable. Gang members should be understood from other juvenile [offenders].”
James Clark, Vice President of Community Outreach at Better Family Life, said gang culture today is the shattered pieces of what it used to be. Instead of two dominating groups like the Crips and the Bloods, Clark said today’s gangs break down into neighborhoods and blocks.
He sees modern gangs as groups of 10 or 20 guys looking out for each other. They decide what type of gang they want to be and how violent they are willing to get.
“Gun violence has become almost accepted and expected,” Clark said.
Solving the Violence
The U.S. Attorney’s office worked with St. Louis police in identifying where the majority of homicides occurred last year in an effort to combat the violence. They called this specific area the “Chief’s Triangle.”
The U.S. Attorney’s office shifted its prosecutors to address the violent crime cases in this area. They also asked service providers to draw their resources toward the Triangle, so people in this area have opportunities to get the services they need.
Clark said he believes the violence is an internal problem. He said that as a race, the black community has been irresponsible in addressing the violence.
“We have looked past it for too long, and it’s time for us to do better, and look at each other and say it’s time for us to stop killing each other,” Clark said. “We cannot pass it onto another generation.”
Clark called on the churches to help address the problem. He said he believes churches have a huge impact on the culture of a neighborhood. Better Family Life’s Pulpit to Porches program establishes churches as the focal point and leader of the neighborhoods.
Huebner sees proactive response as a solution for the violence. She wants to start with kids as early as six years old and children with behavior problems at school. Huebner believes this early intervention needs to provide healthy outlets for troubled youth and provide families with basic needs.
Huebner said if the basic needs of families are not met, the kids start looking for it in other places, like gangs.
In her research, Huebner discovered kids know and understand the laws surrounding guns. They understand the severity of the punishment tied to their actions. The motivator, she said, is these kids are more afraid of other people on the street with guns than they are of the law.
Torrence said he has to be conscious and cautious of who he tells where he is from. His friends may have started a problem that he knows nothing about, but his involvement with the group automatically puts him in the mix.
“St. Louis be crazy, and I be damned if I be a statistic,” Torrence said.