There are no blue skies above the gangland

There is a common myth: young people join gangs for money, power, and status—irresistible things that dreams are made of. But these aren’t why most youth join a gang.

BY SGT. JAG KHOSA

There is a common myth: young people join gangs for money, power, and status—irresistible things that dreams are made of. But these aren’t why most youth join a gang. In my 16-year policing career, most young people join gangs with the false hope of a “better” or “different” life promised by their gang recruiters. I have interacted with hundreds of gang-entrenched individuals and learned about their journeys. What was abundantly clear through these accounts and experiences of the young gang novices was that many weren’t running toward gangs, but away from previous traumas they had experienced. Their vulnerability and search for something better or different led them to fall prey to a dangerous trap of which there was no escape. The deep-rooted trauma combined with the promise of something better caused many to ignore the numerous warning signs along the way.

Popular culture—movies, music, and urban myths—often portrays gang life as glamorous while omitting its horrific impacts. A gang life involves extreme paranoia, constant fear, and separation from real family connections. Most tragically, one could end up in jail or dead. Young people often think they are invincible, and for those who join gangs, the tragic outcomes are exponentially more significant.

Gang members are often killed, jailed, or change allegiances, and, as a result, more “soldiers” must always be recruited for the gang to sustain itself. Just as this recruitment involves a constant effort by gangs, our community and family efforts to protect our youth must also be constant and coordinated. Early childhood prevention and education programs need to be in place to make an impact since gang recruitment begins at a surprisingly young age. Aside from protecting our youth, we also need to show them that there is a better way and offer them alternatives predicated on providing care and attention.

One prevalent and dangerous myth is that selling or transporting drugs isn’t a big deal and pays exceptionally well. The truth is—they never get rich working at that level, and they can seldom break free.

I have had many opportunities to speak with gang-involved individuals. Most recruits are naïve enough to believe the typical sales pitch: you’ll make your first million within six months”. Despite doing much of the high-risk work for the gang, they believe they’re merely selling some “baggies”, which appears to be an easy task to make a few hundred dollars. They fail to see that, no matter where they sit on the hierarchical chain in any drug trafficking network, they are sustaining the gang and perpetuating criminal behaviours. They also fail to see that they can’t simply leave when they feel they’ve earned enough or want to do something else. In some cases, their gang boss asks them to find their own replacement before they consider their exit plea. Mass media also contributes to the misconception of making fast money by glamourizing the gang lifestyle. Too much emphasis on high-end vehicles, designer clothing, and access to trendy spots incentivize those chasing the false dream. It is the same scheme gang recruiters use to recruit vulnerable youth. Unfortunately, the lack of knowledge on the workings of gangs allows these myths to flourish.

Most gangsters do not have the money they pretend to possess. Very few are at the top, and most face extreme risks when climbing the hierarchical ladder. Most of their workers are abused physically and mentally by those above them. A street-level drug dealer, or “runner” may cash up to several hundred dollars per night. Still, they are constantly at risk of getting arrested, charged, or robbed. Drug dealing is not a part-time job and is definitely not worth the inherent risks of injury, arrest, or death.

Drug “runners” often have their products confiscated by the police or robbed by rival gangs. If a runner loses his “product”, he’s liable to pay the supplier for the cost of what was lost. They also face physical abuse from their boss. It is quite common for workers to be “jacked” or robbed by members of their own crew at the direction of their boss, so they end up owing money. Street-level dealers are considered “disposable” and the bosses are not obligated to back them up when caught by police. This is when street dealers realize they don’t have friends, and their so-called gang “brothers” or “sisters” are only out for themselves.

There are no loyalties in gangs. Gangsters will often switch sides for their personal gain. Many internal gang conflicts result from changing allegiances, betrayals, and paranoia. It is common for friends to set each other up for murder.

Those considering joining gangs or drug trafficking networks need to know this game has no friends. Your true strength lies in your family and in your own character. There are no winners in gangs. Even those who made money while leading a life of criminality lost their freedom, their families, and the most important relationships in their life. It’s a heavy price to pay! Remember that your family will pay heavily for your actions despite not endorsing or supporting them. Imagine not attending your sister’s wedding, not having the comfort of your family home, and not travelling with your family members. And most importantly, not being able to lead a life free from fear and paranoia. Yes, young men and women, there are no blue skies above the gangland.

Over the years, Sgt. Jag Khosa has played a vital role in leadership with several non-profit organizations and has spearheaded several programs and events designed to spread awareness on gang prevention and the importance of positive parenting. 

 Aside from his volunteering contributions, Jag has a well-established career in law enforcement with over 16 years of dedicated service in Alberta and BC as an investigator specializing in gang investigations, prevention, intervention, enforcement, and intelligence. Currently, Jag is working as a Sergeant with the newly formed Surrey Police Service.

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