Gangs in the suburbs

Suburbanites often dream that they have escaped or avoided the problems of the big city. But some of these issues are no longer just big city problems: gangs have been in the suburbs for some time now.

Gangs, once a threat confined to city streets, began expanding outward two decades ago. Now, suburban and rural communities are the center of a significant and growing gang problem, according to the 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment report.

The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation found that nearly all communities surrounding Nashville have gang activity, including the traditional suburbs of Nashville, such as those around Hickory Hollow Mall, and small towns in Williamson, Rutherford, Sumner and Wilson counties.

These smaller, residential communities offer fresh territory for selling drugs and that increases the gang’s revenue.

“There’s money out in the suburbs,” said Mike Carlie, criminology and sociology professor at Missouri State University. “There are people in the suburbs that want drugs.”

Growing up in a suburb of Chicago, I can recall when local law enforcement and other officials started talking about gangs in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was something that people in the community weren’t completely prepared for and that threatened the idyllic suburban lifestyle.

I haven’t read much research about suburban gang activity, particularly beyond inner-ring suburbs and in more affluent communities. I would be interested to know how it affects average suburban residents and civic organizations: are they willing to combat the problem and deal with some larger social issues or would they prefer to throw the book at gang members or would they move to further out or more affluent suburbs that don’t have a perceived gang problem?

One of my favorite scenes from Gang Leader for a Day involved the gang leaders meeting at a large suburban house to talk business. While the gang business, mainly involving poor neighborhoods in Chicago, was taking place, their kids were swimming in the pool and acting out the suburban lifestyle. What did the neighbors think? Even a more realistic show like The Wire is set in a place where the public would expect gang activity: run-down areas of Baltimore. Why not put together another show that takes gangs to the suburbs?This would perhaps be too scary for many Americans to consider.

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