Moth­ers de­spair as chil­dren join gangs

They learn of drugs, guns

The Star Early Edition - - WORLD - ILANIT CHERNICK

E GOES out at night and when he leaves, I have no idea if he will come back alive. He’s my only son – he’s just 16 years old.” These were an­guished words of 43-year-old mom, Sheree* whose son Ai­den* be­came deeply in­volved with a West­bury gang 15 months ago.

“He dropped out of school, he had these new friends, they weren’t a good in­flu­ence on him.

“They would come to the house – they taught him how to smoke, drink and I’m sure they do CAT,” she said. As a mother, she’s at a loss not know­ing what to do and made it clear that although she knows he’s an ac­tive gang mem­ber, call­ing the po­lice on her son is out of the ques­tion.

“He came into the house one day with a gun and I screamed. I told him he’s not al­lowed to bring that ‘thing’ into the house. I have small daugh­ters and what hap­pens if they get hold of it and think it’s a toy?” she asked.

Sheree said most of the gang’s “main mem­bers” are be­tween 15 and 30. “Many of our youth are caught up in this mad­ness. They fight over ter­ri­tory and drugs – they shoot and kill each other over those things. They’ll just kill each other be­cause they’re from a ri­val gang or they’ll shoot you just be­cause you looked at them funny,” she said.

“These gangs are tear­ing our fam­i­lies apart and cre­at­ing fric­tion be­tween peo­ple who were once friends.

“When they do these ‘hits’, they will shoot even if there are chil­dren or in­no­cent peo­ple around – chil­dren and in­no­cent peo­ple die all the time,” she added. She and sev­eral other moms then pointed to an area in a front yard near the road.

“The chil­dren play there and in the mid­dle of the day last year, just near the school, there was a hit – in­no­cent peo­ple were killed. Our chil­dren could have died, they were play­ing there when it hap­pened,” said Susie*, an­other mom. “My hus­band was killed last year dur­ing a sim­i­lar shoot­ing near our flat. He was a by­stander, he wasn’t do­ing any­thing but he was caught in the cross­fire. My chil­dren lost their fa­ther and I lost my hus­band. These shoot­ings re­open the heal­ing wounds,” she said, her voice crack­ing.

“How are we sup­posed to keep our chil­dren safe when this just doesn’t stop?” she asked.

Ar­eas like El­do­rado Park, River­lea, New­clare and West­bury are rife with gang vi­o­lence and the un­for­tu­nate real­ity is that most of the mem­bers be­ing re­cruited are young­sters. They’re usu­ally en­ticed by drugs and that “it’s cool to be a gang­ster be­cause ev­ery­one is afraid of you”.

Some of the teenagers and young adults The Star spoke to said they did it be­cause it “makes us feel a part of some­thing” es­pe­cially if they’ve had a hard time at school or grow­ing up.

An 18-year-old gang mem­ber from New­clare, who asked to re­main anony­mous, said he was just 13 when an older gang mem­ber took him un­der his wing and taught him how to shoot a gun.

“My fa­ther died when I was small. They told me if I wanted to be a man, I needed to join a gang and learn how to shoot a gun.

“I started smok­ing dagga and snort­ing CAT, it made me feel good. I feel brave when I take it,” he said. The young man said he dropped out of school a year af­ter join­ing the gang and that many of his friends had joined ri­val gangs and were “tar­get prac­tice”.

“We were friends and now we’re not and I’ll go for them if I’m told to,” he said.

Dar­ryl*, who was vis­i­bly high on drugs, added that he was proud to be a part of the gangs and was not afraid of the vi­o­lence.

Asked whether they wanted to some­day go back to school, the two boys said that the un­em­ploy­ment rate in New­clare was so high, that there would be no point. “At least this gives us some­thing to do and we make a bit of money. It’s bet­ter than noth­ing,” Dar­ryl said.

Sheree and Susie said that the po­lice have al­lowed the sit­u­a­tion to get out of con­trol be­cause they’re “too scared” to get in­volved.

“There was a march last year and the MEC (for Com­mu­nity Safety) came and the shoot­ings stopped for a while – there will be months where it’s not so bad and months where it hap­pens ev­ery night or two to three times a week,” Susie said.

The moms all said that when the chil­dren re­alise that what they are do­ing is wrong, it’s too late.

*Not their real names

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