Gangs in the classroom
I did not feel threatened in my classroom, or anywhere else in America, despite the prevalence of guns, knives and a big gang presence. I might have felt differently if it had actually happened to me. Most of the gang trouble seemed to be focused on other gangs and territory. The major risk was becoming caught up in a fire-fight. That is what happened to Sylvia. I took the roll-call and was informed that she had been shot on her way to school. A stray bullet had ricocheted, caught her in the ankle and come out at the knee.
Two other students were shot in the course of the year (none in school) and there were eleven gang-related murders in the course of that year.
Our front windows were blown out with a drive-by shotgun incident and all the signposts had bullet-holes.
I was lucky.
In one lesson I was teaching about making blood smears. That is usually popular. Students love seeing a teacher stab themselves with a sterile lancet. This time I noticed that the whole class was peering at something behind me. Turning round I was confronted by Ruben, a Chicano gang leader. He had out this extremely long, slim-bladed flick-knife. Whereas my lancet resulted in a little bead of blood Ruben had sliced his thumb open. I was about to apply my bead of blood to a glass slide but Ruben was dripping blood onto a slide that someone was holding out for him. He grinned at me and I shook my head.
Ruben took me out around town to explain the graffiti. There were lists of names in different colours and styles.
‘These are the ones being honoured,’ Ruben explained. He was showing me a list of names written in stylised Mexican writing. The names were those of gang members who died in the cause.
‘These are the dead,’ Ruben pointed to a second list. This list was a similar set of names in a different colour. Some of them had lines through them. They were members of the other gang who had been implicated in the death of brothers. The ones with lines through had been hunted down and killed.
At night the gang went out fully armed hunting for those on the list. If they found one of them they would kill him if they could. The other gang was doing the same. They were out defending their territory.
It was all very tribal, primitive and daft. But unless you were in the gang you had no protection. It was all about respect. It was like regressing into some ancient clannish behaviour.