“In a Gangster’s Paradise” is an NEA publication aimed at helping teachers wise up to the reality of gangs in the schools. I think LDS leaders might benefit from it as well. If LDS teenagers in a small and famously safe town in the heart of Zion (Appleton, Wisconsin, of course) can end up in jail through gang involvement – and I know a couple who have – then no area is immune.
It might be helpful to know some of the signs of gang involvement (or wannabe status). Certain baseball caps or ways of wearing clothing, for example, can point to gang orientation. Take the Gang IQ quiz by clicking above “Gang IQ” at http://www.nea.org/neatoday/0804/feature1.html.
Gangs are one manifestation of the secret combinations the Book of Mormon warns about. The Book of Mormon tells us that they are had among all people – a very true statement – and also indicates that, at least for some forms, they have secret oaths and secret signs that can be used to allow members to recognize each other. Interestingly, it describes gangs focused on theft and murder at a petty scale, rebel guerrilla groups that strike from the strongholds in the mountains a la Al Qaeda and the Shining Path, and extremely dangerous groups that organize within the elite ranks of society with the objective of taking away the liberties of a people. And in Ether 8, it prophetically warns that in our day a particular combination will seek to take away the freedom of all nations. I find the Book of Mormon to be remarkably insightful and increasingly essential for an understanding of major currents in our day, and urge that we pay more attention to its repeated messages in this area.
Meanwhile, keep your eyes on your young people and help protect them from the deadly influence of your local gangs, as petty and “benign” as they may be compared to the real robbers out there.