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Gangs don't bite

What if we consider gangs in areas of decline, not as a sign of social decadence but as a means of social organization that can be the stepping stone to create local hubs of small businesses, run and secured by the gangs themselves?

Photo of Stylianos Makridis
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In 1958 East Saint Louis was named the “All American City”. With a population of 83,000 the city was prosperous and thriving as a musical center producing big names in blues, rock, jazz (Miles Davis, Tina Turner, Ike). 
The city’s eroding financial position along with the construction of freeways around the city broke up the city’s neighborhood and community.   Today, the city has a population of 27,000 residents, drastic urban blight struggling with stagnant economic conditions amongst a severely deteriorating social landscape.
Gangs rule. After visiting and talking to their representatives again and again, I realized that gangs are just another form of social organization for survival. Maybe rough, even violent. But so are the conditions that the community experiences. Gangs are not rich. Their drug and gun lords are.  In their view they are just doing business, with some of the most prevalent and highly demanded products in the area.
Despite that, there are other products and services that can be equally profitable for them, and have nothing to do with drugs or guns. But...they miss the experience the contacts and the knowledge to make them profitable....

Read how this can happen at: 


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Hm ... this reminds me of the book "Gang Leader For A Day." It's a fascinating read -- a sociology PhD student befriended a gang leader in the Chicago projects and really got an inside glimpse into gang life. His insights mirror yours, that gangs are a social organization and also, in a way, an economic organization (in those projects they controlled a large amount of economic activity, etc.)

From what I gather from the book, and others may read this differently, is that a major challenge is that many gang members feel disenfranched froom mainstream society and don't feel a large incentive to play by those rules, because they have an alternate mechanism for being profitable (and drugs and guns are very profitable). So I would push you a bit and ask if it is just contacts and knowledge that they are missing, or is there something else that ew need to address to leverage gangs into small businesses?

Photo of Stylianos Makridis

You are absolutely right Jessica. They have formalized a system of survival that fits perfectly with the rest of the world's rendition of them. I will read the book also. While talking to them I felt that trying to bridge two worlds by talking from the perspective of one will be very challenging to manage. So we need to use a universally accepted and non-threatening catalyst to access them. That might Or any other form of creative activity. Very useful insight. thanks