When fights between rival gangs break out, it is almost certain that innocent bystanders will also become victims of the violence.
Not only that, but gangs also prey on otherwise good kids through intimidation or just the illusion of offering a better life.
Oftentimes, gangs can become powerful enough that local (and even national) law enforcement is unable to sufficiently deal with the threat.
Oftentimes, heavy-handed tactics against gangs only lead to more bloodshed in the form of violent reprisals.
In what seems like an ever-deepening cycle of violence, such gangs lead their communities deeper and deeper into bloodshed and misery.
I'm of the mind that gang fights aren't the sole blame of the gangs.
Certainly, we are all individuals who have responsibility for our actions, and the actions of violent criminals is reprehensible and inexcusable.
The circumstances that allow, or oftentimes force them to make the choice to enter a life of crime, though, seems sadly to be due to the failure of society to find a place for these individuals.
There is an excellent documentary by the name of "Favela Rising" that illustrates the dynamics at play in the gang-dominated communities of the favelas (squatter slums) of Rio de Janeiro (this documentary is available as a free download from http://www.
It shows how crushing poverty and social injustice in the form of brutish and oppressive police have contributed to creating a geographically tiny hotbed of almost-warfare.
Here, poverty has forced too many children into drug gangs and most will be dead before they reach adulthood.
But the lure of this dirty money is an almost irresistible temptation, as the ordinary working folk of the favela make less in a month than what a gang member can make in a day.
The "work" is dangerous and often deadly, but still gang members get all the girls and the glory- two things that, along with money, are otherwise all but unobtainable to non-gang members in this topsy-turvy world.
I mention this movie because of the actions of one member of the community which point to the cure.
He was sick of the violence, sick of the death and destruction wrought by this insane system.
He sought a better way, and found it.
By empowering kids and giving them an alternative to the gangs, he has been able to take large numbers of them away from the gangs and thus start a movement toward sanity and healing.
I believe his example shows the way for all of us who are faced with violence in the forms of gangs.
Although the vehicle in the movie is music and after school programs, the main message is that we as individuals have the wisdom and power to create the positive change that is needed at the local level.
We need to give kids a way to feel good about themselves, to offer them the feeling of belonging that they search for in a gang, but to make it for good.