Milwaukee Gangs Operate Like Small - and Risky - Businesses

`IN Milwaukee, we don't find the same kind of gang structure that Carl Taylor found in Detroit,'' says John Hagedorn. ``We don't have the major organizations. Instead, there's a whole lot of small businesses with the same kind of failure rate as any other small business, but with one exception - it's very risky work.'' Mr. Hagedorn is the author of ``People and Folks: Gangs, Crime and the Underclass in a Rustbelt City.'' Funded by the Milwaukee Foundation, Hagedorn's year of interviews with the ``top dogs'' of Milwaukee's black and Puerto Rican gangs proved to be controversial. When the book was published in l988 it revealed the presence of gangs, which the police had previously denied. Hagedorn was subsequently appointed to the Milwaukee County Human Services Agency.

The following are excerpts from an interview with Hagedorn:

What is lacking in the neighborhoods where the gangs exist?

There weren't any kind of community agencies or public schools that these kids had anything but the greatest hostility toward. There were no role models to help these kids survive.... There is a profound alienation from the black leadership and from the organizations supposedly there to help. The result is very selfish. They say, ``I'm going to take care of myself and my fellas and the hell with the rest of these people.''

The gangs look at the road of political struggle [followed] by a Martin Luther King and say, ``What happened to him? He got killed.''

Yet, it's well known that being young and part of a gang can be a deadly combination in the inner city.

Get involved with gangs and your chances of going to jail or [being] shot or dying are great. When you're 16 or 17, it's sort of important to get busted. But when you're in your 20s, it's a different scene entirely. I don't see many people looking at prison as a badge. The fear isn't as great because in prison you've got your friends there; you've got a network. The drug trade is still there. Life is a little easier.

What do you suggest as solutions to the problem of gangs?

I think it's important that we press for some kind of job program that is going to help revitalize the US. We have to invest in the neighborhoods. At the Milwaukee County Human Services we divided the city by zip codes and [identified] where the gangs are clustered.

Then we looked at where we spent our money [$100 million a year in social services]. We spent less than $100,000 in those neigborhoods, and one of the things that large insitutions have to do is start being accountable to the neighborhoods in a physical sense; they have to be there, reaching out rather than just providing dollars to agencies that are helping but aren't anywhere near those neighborhoods. We didn't find a single bank or chain grocery store or a check-cashing store in the heart of the black community where 40,000 people live.

A banker would say it's too dangerous.

Right, and they move elsewhere, further exacerbating the problem.... To me the heart of it is institution-building in these neighborhoods, making sure services are going to reach some of these young kids.

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