Murderball Diaries?

At the “Out” session on youth-gang outreach, a few outreach workers referenced the power of two activities to stymie or slow gang violence:
  1. taking gang-involved youth out of the community and bringing kids from different gangs together in foreign environments (West Virginia, Aspen [skiing trips, etc.]). At these events, kids are brought together and encouraged to discuss their issues, being afraid of dying from gang violence. The thought is that taking youth out of their environment, they have more flexibility in their identity and way to see the world. By bringing them together, youth see each other as “more human” and are less likely to enact violence on each other. The efficacy of these trips is questionable, but worth considering–especially in terms of why it may work.
  2. C-Webb and others involved in DC Parks and Recreation have brought together kids for basketball tournaments during the summer and made claims that when these basketball tournaments were going on, not one murder or inter-crew violent incident occurred. This is a very interesting claim–especially considering that when the rec-center used for the tournament was closed, violence almost immediately picked up again.
These two examples lead to an interesting question: can interventions that bring disparate gang- and crew- involved youth together successfully deter them from violence and moreover can it deter them from identifying as members of a gang, especially in relation to the inimical “other” that is other gangs’ members. In short: can creating cross-cutting ties deter the violent activity of gangs or even more deter involvement in gangs.
Some others have examined the use of cross-cutting ties to deter racial and ethnic violence (Horowitz 1983) or encourage political moderation (Dunning and Harrison 2009). Social scientists often attribute moderation of the salience of ethnicity, in ethnically diverse societies, to the presence of cross-cutting cleavages—that is, to dimensions of identity or interest along which members of the same ethnic group may have diverse allegiances (Lipset and Rokkan 1967; Dahl 1982). When individuals who are members of the same group or social category on one dimension of interest or identity (such as ethnicity, or in the case of the proposed research, gangs) are members of different groups on another dimension (such as social class), their competing interests on the second dimension may undercut their primary allegiance to interests arising on the first dimension. Cross-cutting cleavages can thereby inhibit the tendency of political conflicts to intensify along the first dimension. As the sociologist Lewis Coser (1956, 72-81) once put it, “The interdependence of antagonistic groups and the crisscrossing within such societies of conflicts, which serve to ‘sew the social system together’ by canceling each other out, thus prevent disintegration along one primary line of cleavage.”
Developing cross-cutting ties across social cleavages appears to have an anodyne effect on hostile intergroup relations. Therefore, it is possible to conjecture that creating such cross-cutting ties may have the effect of deterring inter-gang violence and furthermore reducing the salience of gang identity–often a catalyst of gang violence.
How to create these ties, however, is a considerable question. How does one bring warring gang members together amicably without instigating further violence?
Notions of how to do this were presented at the “Out” seminar as previously mentioned. While taking kids on vacations may have a positive impact, it appears prohibitively expensive to have a wide impact, especially because identity changes would likely take a considerable amount of time, effort, and social support that may not be found when gang members return to their home community. The basketball example, however, appears more actionable.
The question with the basketball example centers largely around how the teams were created. Were teams made of members of single gangs? Or were they mixed so that youth from multiple gangs had to work together to one end? A hypothesis on the potential outcome for the mixed team model is that greater gang violence reduction and reduced salience of gang identity would occur than with the unilateral team creation. Moreover, it appears that in past experiences (though details on these are sparse), that violence picked up again immediately. If these were unilateral teams, it seems as if the basketball tournament provided an activity and outlet for the otherwise violent posturing of gang members. This then, is a temporary fix. A long-term fix occurs with identity (individual and collective) change and theoretically, this occurs through establishing social bonds and connections (social capital theory) with members of other gangs.
A dependent variable would be reductions in violence and changes in attitudes regarding others over time.
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