West Indian Youth Join Gangs to Fill Void at Home

Leroy Hutchinson, who worked as a cop in Brooklyn for over 12 years trying to bring together East Flatbush residents and NYPD officers, expresses sorrow over the increasing number of young people from West Indian families who join gangs and get involved in drugs and violence.

He tells Carib News‘ Tony Best that Caribbean youth turn to gangs to fill in the void at home.

Members of the Caribbean community worry about the increasing susceptibility of young people in East Flatbush to gangs. (Photo by Tom Giebel, Flickr Creative Commons License)

It’s a hard fact of life that these young people, most of them first and second generation kids who were born in the United States of West Indian parents, are searching for love but unfortunately, they are finding it [in] the wrong places,” he said. “They are the children of hard-working Caribbean mothers who are often doing two and three jobs to put bread on the table and keep a roof over their heads and therefore don’t have the time to give the children the attention, love and care they want and need. Unfortunately, The youths, mainly males, are finding it in youth gangs.”

“It’s a prescription for trouble,” said the West Indian who retired from the force a year ago. I have dealt with so many of them that I know the problem is real. Something must be done to reach the kids and sometimes they have to be provided with tough love. We are talking about kids whose parents are from Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, you name the country, you can find them among the Bloods, Crips and other gangs. It’s a shame.”

St. Vincent psychologist Dr. Bert John, who has studied Caribbean immigrant families, attributes the susceptibility to gangs to a disconnect between generations. He echoes Hutchison’s assertion that kids turn to gangs because it provides the comforts that parents do not have the time or resources to give. Furthermore, the drive of young immigrants decades ago who came to the U.S. to better themselves has dissipated in the younger American-born generation.

“Many of the young people, who were either born in the United States or came to the country when they were infants, have lost their purpose,” he said. “There is a breakdown of far too many West Indian immigrant families and the sad part about this is that many of the adults are afraid of the young people who belong to the gangs and are unable to talk to them. There is an inter-generational breakdown. You have youths whose parents were so busy working hard to support them that the kids were left almost alone for years. The result is a self-imposed alienation.”

What’s making the situation so untenable, he says, is that many of the youthful gang members don’t possess the skills or the education for the workplace and therefore believe they must support themselves in the only way they know. Hence, they resort to gangs for the family connections they didn’t have at home and the love they crave.

“Decades ago, the West Indian youth came here with a purpose, education, acquisition of skills, you name it and they worked hard to acquire them. It went beyond economics. While much of that remains, far too many of them, especially those who were born here don’t have that perspective. In reality these are American kids,” he said. “The gang involvement can start in elementary school, go through middle school and continue into high school.”

Add the weakening of the extended family to the equation, the absence of fathers and the pressures placed on single mothers and what emerges, he contends, is a prescription for gang membership and trouble.

New York State Senator Kevin Parker, whose district encompasses East Flatbush, blames schools and the government for not supporting programs that would give young people an avenue to turn to instead of joining gangs. He too repeats the sentiment that this embrace wasn’t always the case.

“The school experience doesn’t stimulate the kids and many of them drop out. There is little music, art or athletics. The after-school programs have been slashed due to budget reductions and the youths, especially the young males, unfortunately, see gang activity as an alternative,” Parker said. “Years ago, Caribbean kids didn’t turn to gangs but that’s no longer the case.”

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