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Boys, Gangs, and America's Concern

August 15, 2021

by Sean Kullman

Exploiting Boys who Lack Purpose and Guidance

When 13-year-old Adam Toledo was shot and killed by law-enforcement on March 29, 2021, media outlets showered the airways with stories regarding the unarmed killing of a 13-year-old boy at the hands of law-enforcement. Much of this took place as the Derek Chauvin trial for the killing of George Floyd riveted the nation. Protests ensued almost immediately before much of the information regarding Toledo's death was released. Later footage showed Toledo was armed and the officer had less than a second to react.

Those in favor of defunding police and those opposed to defunding police were at immediate odds with one another. Questions regarding gang affiliations soon worked their way into the storyline. Some in Little Village, a predominately Mexican-American area in Chicago where Toledo lived, thought the gang affiliation was a mischaracterization of Toledo. Social narratives again seemed at odds as Mayor Lightfoot, law-enforcement, and various news outlets tried to unravel the moment that pitted a police officer and an armed 13-year-old boy against one another.

But the story of Adam Toledo is not such a peculiar one for fatherless boys who struggle in school. (One report did mention Toledo's father was in his life, but to what degree is uncertain.). Adam also had challenges in school, which might account for some of the reasons Toledo associated with Ruben Roman Jr. on the night of his death. Roman, a 21 year-old young man, has had run-ins with law-enforcement in the past and is a known gang member according ABC-7 Chicago. He has a history of drug possession, unlawful use of a weapon, possession of a firearm and other offenses that go back as far as 2017. In Adam Toledo's case, Roman has been charged with “reckless discharge of a firearm, unlawful use of a weapon, child endangerment and violating probation.”

Whether or not Toledo was part of a gang, the least we can say is Toledo was being groomed by a 21-year-old young man with a criminal record and probable gang affiliation.

When GIBM reviewed information from the U.S. Department of Justice's National Gang Center, the data revealed 2 of every 5 gang members are under the age of 18 and 92% of gang members are male.

While much of gang affiliation has focused on inner cities, "smaller cities and rural counties, whose gang problems are relatively more recent, are more likely to report equal proportions of juvenile and adult gang members," according to demographic information from the National Gang Center.

Many understand the reasons boys gravitate to gangs and that the allure of gangs are part of a larger systemic problem. Boys without fathers, male role models, positive educational experiences, addiction problems, and little in the way of promising careers are susceptible to exploitation and crime. And gang members use similar approaches as human traffickers to encourage and exploit young people and even adults into crime and human exploitation. Gangs, like human traffickers, hook young people, victimize them or have them victimize others, and create a great burden on families and society.

Source: National Gang Center

Boys are not born violent. They are aggressive, risk takers but they are not inherently violent. But our society often treats them as such and then we wonder why boys who feel desperate and alone participate in violent acts that lead to serious harm and death to themselves and other boys far more frequently. (All one needs to do is look at suicide deaths, opioid deaths, violent crime deaths, high school graduation rates, college acceptance rates, and homelessness to understand this overarching phenomenon known as the boy crisis). There is a long overdo social reckoning that must be confronted: we are not managing our boys well, and the strategies we are using fail to address the biological realities that boys and girls learn differently and respond to different cues. A look at school discipline, for instance, helps us better understand the linear path of a genuine disdain for male energy and the more frightening reality that schools and other institutions do not know how to engage them.

The Harsher Treatment

of Boys Begins Early

America is long overdue for an educational approach that creates positive outcomes for boys and men. But for the most part, schools are quite hostile and misunderstand the needs of boys; often accepting the fact that it's normal for boys to be the majority of school suspensions and those disciplined in schools.

The harsher treatment of boys begins at an early age and is often seen in one of America's largest institutions, the public school system. A study of school suspensions, juvenile arrests, and incarcerations in California mirrors trends across the nation.

Although teachers are not responsible for the actions of their students private behavior, there is a clear and linear path in the way we punish, arrest, and incarcerate boys and men. Teachers and school systems, however, must acknowledge the need to close the Boy Gender-Gap in reading and college readiness by making schools more welcoming to boys and more pedagogically relevant as science is unlocking the biological differences that exist between boys, girls, and how they learn.

In a separate study of data in Washington State and California, data revealed boys do worse than their female counterparts in English Language Arts/Literacy. The California study revealed boys of all races do worse than their female counterparts of the same race. These trends mirror those of the nation.

Despite data that acknowledges suspension rates, lower reading skills, and other academic deficits for boys, few school districts recognize how biological differences between boys and girls impact outcomes. As schools embrace other academic modes, boys are loosing more ground in educational equity, inclusion and outcomes. These early life factors in school account, to some degree, for some of the outcomes of boys and the men they become.

While some of our greatest thought leaders have called on government at the local, state, and national level to create commissions and counsels on boys and men to mirror the ones we see for women, girls, and minority groups, there is no concerted effort on the part of local, state, and national government to do so for all boys and men.

And gang affiliation is an ideal breading ground for boys who lack education, career skills, positive adult role models, and a sense of purpose. Our boys and men are seeking acceptance and purpose and gangs, drugs, and crime are providing it to them while public policy makers are ignoring them and providing little in the way of purpose and compassion.

Arguments will continue regarding the loss of Adam Toledo and whether or not the actions that night were necessary or unnecessary. There is little doubt, however, the loss of a 13-year-old boy is a tragedy. But I often wonder. What would life have been like if Adam Toledo liked to read late into the night? Why wasn't Adam Toledo reading in his bed and falling asleep with Harry Potter resting on his chest as he drifted into a deep sleep with the images of a magical castle in the distance, where a kind orphaned boy is loved, protected, and challenged, and who ultimately finds his way because an entire set of adults cared enough to make it so.

Ways to donate to the Global Initiative for Boys and Men

  • Credit Card Donation through Pay Pal and Donorbox

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  • Mail checks to Global Initiative for Boys and Men, Mailbox 337, 685 Spring St., Friday Harbor, WA 98250