Wednesday, September 06, 2006

'A 10-year nightmare'

By Sylver McLaren

The first time Jagdeep Singh Mangat experienced the lure of a gang was at a school dance.
He was in Grade 8.
"These kids walked in and took over the dance, slapped kids around, slapped the principal around. It was the first time I saw the power of it and it set off a 10-year nightmare," said Mangat, speaking at the Caring For Our Youth symposium at Surrey's Stenberg College Saturday.
At 13 he began committing crimes. His tumultuous lifestyle came with a continuing cycle of self-destruction and ruthlessness. He went from ripping off kids to armed robbery and drug dealing, eventually spending a year locked in a 10-by-six-foot room.
"It was the first time I had to sit down and think. I asked myself: 'What the hell happened?'"
Now a 31-year-old SFU sociology student, he wants to know what kind of society breeds a criminal and what attracts people to gangs.
Fourth-generation Indo-Canadian Harjit Singh, a criminology graduate, said understanding Indian culture could provide insight into Indo-Canadian gangs, which are growing in number and becoming a major crime problem in the Lower Mainland.
Singh and co-author Darryl Plecas wrote a 300-page report describing the characteristics and development of Indo-Canadian gangs.
The Characteristics, Development and Activities of South Asian Gangs: An Exploratory Approach suggests Indo-Canadian gangs are unique and distinct and should not be compared to other minority or ethnic gangs.
For example, Singh said some youth at risk of joining Indo-Canadian gangs are newcomers to Canada, typically from large households in flourishing communities. Other ethnic or minority gang members tend to be poverty-stricken and from single-parent families.
Singh said some kids join gangs because they've been shunned by both Indo-Canadians and other ethnic groups and don't fit in to their new surroundings. Others are first-generation Indo-Canadians exploring the limits of freedom offered by the "Canadian way of life." And some are attracted by the idea of wealth.
Leadership within an Indo-Canadian gang is hard to define; the structure is loose and there are usually five to seven members. Singh added there about 1,500 Indo-Canadian gangs in the Lower Mainland.
Symposium speaker Wendy Taylor, who is working on her doctorate in criminology and has 25 years experience working with young offenders, proposed intervention strategies for home, school and in the community.
Taylor advised parents to take an active role in their children's lives - know their friends, listen to them and keep the lines of communication open.
Schools can offer a sense of belonging, Taylor said, by providing security and guidance.
"If youth find the acceptance and support they need at home and at school they will be less vulnerable to gang involvement."
Lastly, Taylor suggested the community provide youth-oriented and youth-led activities as well as safe places for youth to be with friends, organize community projects and educate everyone about the dangers of gangs.
As for Mangat's advice, he said: "Don't get into a gang. You'll end up dead, in jail or on drugs. You want that? You want to be a crackhead? It's a myth that you'll end up a high-roller."

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