Tag Archives: street gangs

Criminal Minds

22 Dec

Criminal Minds
There was a student who was named by his mother Xerox, and who re-named himself Z-rox. He was 14, and lived in a world of his own making. His word was the law, his presence was required for relevant drama, and his appearance was never to be equaled. He did not want to explore the world of knowledge, preferring instead the world of high excitement, drama and danger. The last (grade) school he attended expelled him because he was caught on security cameras trying to set a fire in the play ground, in hopes that the school would burn down. He appeared in my classroom randomly, whether he was supposed to be there or not. He preferred classes that had subs, because they were less likely to know if he belonged there or not, because that was information that was not made helpfully available to subs. Attendance lists were irrelevant if the same student yells “present’ three or four times for different names in different voices to cover for the cutters. That is why I figured out early on to learn the names of all the students. I used to stand there and say “excuse me” to the disruptive student, and they would ignore me like I was a piece of fruit on their lunch tray, until I said their name. Then they would turn to me in annoyance and say “What?” To me that means I won the battle.
Z-rox was into his third year of seventh grade. He pulled a knife on his girlfriend during lunch and threatened to slice her up. For that he was suspended for three days, most of which he spent roaming the halls of that middle school because his mother was never home during the day and he had nowhere else to go. So he became a normal presence in the hall – in and out of detention. Teachers are not allowed to touch students, or even verbally reprimand them. We cannot eject them from the classroom, because there is never enough staff to supervise them in detention. We were not encouraged to report them if we were not prepared to deal with them in the classroom. Once I called the cell phone number that was on record for his mother and he answered, telling me she was not home. He was a superstar among the other students because he spent 30 days “upstate” and survived to come back and tell about it. He was as smart as any student I had, but lacked any kind of social responsibility; as a result his skill and intelligence were tragically misdirected. As it was a result he was one of the reasons why the official NYPD security guards sitting at the front desk called this school “Riker’s Prep.”
This was a Blood’s school, meaning that the street gang called the Bloods had prevailed in the war of territory and power that rules the sub-levels of American cities. This means if you wanted to belong you came to school wearing the colors, knowing the hand signs, and being prepared to submit to the lawless rules of street and strife. Even the Honor’s Student who skirted the chaos, or, depending on how you look at it, respected the order of this situation, recognized and respected the colors. Once on a Thursday afternoon a member of the Crips got off a city bus in front of the school and walked around the whole block, then got back on the very next bus. That Friday as school was being dismissed there were five NYPD squad cars and one big NYPD bus parked around the entire parameter of the school, anticipating a gang riot because the Crips had tested the waters, and sent a hostile message. NYPD takes these things seriously. Even in middle school. Thankfully nothing came of the incident, at least not on school property.
There is a tension of danger in these city schools, which children have to deal with. They have to sort out what’s right, what’s wrong, and what’s best for themselves and their siblings., An alliance to a gang does not mean an alliance to badness or evil, anymore than an alliance to a political party necessarily leads to a reduction of basic moral values.
There have been times for various reasons I have been confronted by boys larger, stronger, but thankfully not wiser than me. I have been challenged, “come on, you want to go?” Or forced to stand my ground as I have been confronted nose to nose, as a test to my resolve, for the purpose of these boys to show their ability to confront authority and display their bravado to their gang members, girlfriends or weaker boys they have been bullying. I never turned away, but never have I allowed them to turn it into a situation that was theirs to control. My response was always: “Meet me in front of this school when you turn 21. Then I’ll either kick your ass or buy you a beer.” Their reaction was either to shrug and turn away, or to just turn away. Children unadmittedly respect adults, up to and including emulating their flaws and failures.
Fights occur. Tensions demand drama which allows a distraction from the boring aspect of the learning process, and all enjoy the righteous victory over the unrighteous defeated because drama is the most potent force in these students’ lives, thanks to the electronic influences far beyond the reach of either parents or educators, who only house, feed, clothe, medicate and educate them. There must be a better way. Any suggestions?