Our Gangs 

For thug-life posers, Halloween is a year-round affair

A year or so back, when I was living in Hawaii, one of the local TV stations reported on a drive-by shooting at a bike shop. When I heard about the incident, scenes from a number of TV shows and movies immediately came to mind.

You know the scene: slouching gang bangers cruising the streets in a lowride '64 Chevy Impala, red bandanas on and Glocks in hand; a little girl playing hopscotch about to be caught in the crossfire; a hardworking single mom setting the table, unaware that her world was about to change; the menacing sound of Snow's "Informer" playing in the background. (OK. Scratch that last bit. There was nothing particularly dangerous about that dreadful early '90s hit, that is unless fake Jamaican accents make your ears bleed.)

But this drive-by was different. No one died, no one cried, and absolutely no bullets were fired. All that happened was some kids took an air-powered pellet gun and shot at a storefront window, which isn't so much a drive-by shooting as much as an act of vandalism. (Or as some high-schoolers might call it, a normal Friday night out on the town.)

Which brings us to a few recent reports on gangs in Charleston.

The reports, featured in The Post & Courier and on WCSC and WCBD, highlighted a series of gang awareness meetings sponsored by the Charleston Police Department designed to help parents identify the signs that their child may be palling around with folks a lot tougher than Alfalfa, Buckwheat, and the rest of the O.G. crew. (A shout out to all my homies in lockdown in Miss Crabtree's classroom. The He-Man-Woman-Haters Club forever, yo.)

That said, it's important to understand the power of the gang mystique and the impact it has had on pop and youth culture. Simply put: you can't judge a book by its cover.

Just as not every Goth kid is a blood-sucking vampire — although they may seriously wish they were swapping red cells with Louis and Lestat — most kids dressed like gang members are nothing more than youngsters who celebrate Halloween year-round. (And yes, I said, "Not every Goth kid is a blood-sucking vampire.")

By and large, the P&C report ignores this, adopting a doom-and-gloom approach leading off with the question, "Would you know if your child is involved in a gang?" and later proclaiming that "the signs are obvious" if your kids are in a gang — "Friends wearing the same colors," "Hand signals," "Coded writing," "Tattoos," "Youths coming in late at night," "Guns," "Expensive jewelry and cell phones."

A later editorial kept with the summer-of-the-sharks-child-molester-next-door-MRSA-in-your-gym-shorts tone (Emphasis added): "Our community has been largely spared — so far — the scourge of gang violence that has inflicted such a tragic toll in far too many other U.S. cities."

WCSC, however, acknowledges there may be a little dressing up involved, stating, "News 2 found alleged gang activity online, but [Charleston City Police Department Crime Analyst Paul] Duncil says Charleston City police officers see posers, or people who imitate gang members."

The report then adds, "[Duncil] says it's not known whether the people shown in an infamous rap video made in downtown Charleston were gang members or a group of people focused on making a rap video. He says that's why it's important to look at all the evidence."

That said, even though you can't determine whether or not someone is a gang member by his colors, being a poser poses its own set of problems. "[Duncil] said, 'If they're wearing a color or flashing a sign they've seen one of their favorite rappers on TV flashing and they don't know what it means, the people who do know the meaning behind the sign could take it as disrespect.'"

Yeah. Just ask Snow. He's serving out a life sentence in the used CD bin.


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