Working as a police officer, I have encountered many youth who are misguided and who choose to believe the countless myths about the realities of gang life, as opposed to facing the truth. The common misconception is that it a life limitless wealth, fancy cars, and beautiful women. All of which can be very appealing to some. However, due to these assumptions, many young people head down this path without seeing the warning signs that this lifestyle ultimately will have them end up in jail or cost them their life.
The glamourized lifestyle that is portrayed in television and film, as well as the news, is far from the truth. TV and movies fail to accurately depict the horrors that are also inherent. You will never see on screen the fear and paranoia that plagues gangsters who have gotten themselves in too deep and know that the only way out is an inevitable death.
I have said previously that a gang problem does, in fact, exist in our community and I have outlined the various ways in which parents can inform their children about the dangers of gang life at a very early age. I strongly believe prevention is the key. We must take the initiative to educate ourselves and spread awareness among others and share the appropriate knowledge with our children to deter them from the lure of organized crime and the gang lifestyle.
This article will be the first in a new series that is geared towards discrediting one myth at a time.
MYTH: Selling or transporting a “little bit” of drugs isn’t a big deal and by doing so one can make lots of money.
Most people have an inflated idea of how much money gangsters make. The media contributes to this misconception, highlighting the glamorous aspect of the gang lifestyle by utilizing images of expensive vehicles, designer clothing, and access to trendy spots in our cities to further bolster the image. It is not surprising that much of the music being listened to by kids contains the same sort of message. Unfortunately, lack of public information about the true internal working models of gangs allows this myth to flourish.
REALITY: Majority of gangsters actually do not have the money they pretend to have. To achieve a high status when climbing from the bottom does not come without paying dues. During the course of this progression, many low-level gangsters, or associates of gangsters for that matter, are abused physically and mentally by those above them. It is important to note that high-level gangsters are in no way exempt from this abuse, however, the real struggles of recent recruits often go unrecognized as they do not make the headlines.
A street-level drug dealer, or “runner”, may be able to cash up to several hundred dollars per night. However, he or she constantly runs the risk of getting arrested and charged with possession or trafficking of a controlled substance.. Dealing drugs is not a part-time job and it is definitely not worth living life with a criminal record. Street-level distributors often have their products confiscated by the police or other drug networks. If the runner were to lose his product, he would be indebted to the boss for the cost of that supply. A shortfall during the end of a shift payment is merely one of the ways to experience immense physical abuse from the boss (commonly known as the “food boss”). It is quite common for workers to be “jacked”, or robbed, by members of their own crew and their boss so they end up owing money.
Street-level dealers are considered “disposable”. Their bosses are not obligated to “back up” the street runners who fail to perform their assigned duty. If caught by police, these runners will have to pay for their own legal support. This is often when people realize that they really don’t have any friends in this lifestyle and their so-called “brothers” or “sisters”, are really only out for themselves.
A typical dial-a-dope operation crudely mirrors a pizza delivery system. Before cell phones, drug dealers used to rely on regular customers and maintained a fixed route where substances would be available. Nowadays, customers are constantly in flux and the competition with other dealers is tough. With the help of new technology, suppliers and consumers are able to cross paths more easily by exchanging contact information. Just as one would pick up the phone to order a pizza, customers will call the drug line to order their drug of choice. Sometimes, a particular gang will have more than one “line” under their operation. Children as young as 13-years-old work for those who manage the distribution houses. And the age of these children being exploited continues to get younger. Drug exchanges happen very quickly. It is possible to witness a hand-to-hand exchange as one car pulls up to another and makes a quick stop. Another scenario could result in an individual physically entering another car and being dropped off minutes later. These drug transactions may occur during all hours of the day. Such scenes can be witnessed within public places such as parking lots, malls, busy neighbourhoods and in some cases, even on school grounds. Through changing times, the delivery and ordering systems has changed. However, one thing has remained constant and that is the immense risk these individuals partake for being involved in drug business, for they are on the front lines of the war between gangs.
Consequently, the drug and gang landscape has changed. To maintain power within a highly complex and interconnected network, there are specific areas allotted for distribution that fall under the authority of a particular gang. As efficient as this territorial system may seem, in actuality, this paved the way for the emergence of turf wars where gangsters used violent means to retain or regain their territory.
An individual who believes that he is merely a drug runner and denies association with a formal gang is wrong. It is an illusion that street-level drug distributors cannot be considered gangsters of some kind. In reality, drugs and gangs go hand-in-hand. The majority of gangs or organized crime groups extract money from the drug trade, with the exception of a few who focus on online gambling, prostitution, human trafficking, and extortion.
“Gangs, and their success, are predicated on myths and people believing them. All too often we see young men and women sucked into the gang lifestyle because they have believed the lies and have been manipulated,” says the CFSEU-BC’s Staff Sergeant Lindsey Houghton. “We all need to play a role in dispelling the myths of gangs if we are to have any success against them.”
In my experience dealing with youth, I found they could not see or foresee any danger associated with their business, that being selling drugs. In their minds, because they were regularly provided with products (drugs), carried cell phones, retained regular and familiar contacts, and had their own means of transportation, and they held the power and maintained autonomy. What they appeared ignorant or oblivious to was that in the business of the drug trade, power players end up dead, as a result of execution-style shootings where front-line drug runners get taken out by rival gang members, or even betrayed by their gang associates…those they mistakenly believed were their friends and who would look out for them.
Emphasis has always been on acquiring money, control, and turf. Execution style shootings are also carried out to send a clear message to rival gangs about who owns a particular territory. Despite an individual’s rank within a gang or organization, no one is immune to the brazen violence. By nature of the trade, a gangster will always be looking over his shoulder, living in a constant state of paranoia.
What most teenagers fail to understand is that everything they earn via the drug trade comes at a steep price. To maintain their standing or advance within the gang, a large portion of that money goes towards legal fees and debt to other gang members, as well expensive clothing to continue the illusion of wealth, cost of luxury vehicles, and showing off to a vast social network by spending money on alcohol and VIP service at nightclubs, and throwing lavish parties. Very little money is saved at the end of the day, and not being able to pay when debt is being collected can result in the loss of life. To pay back for the shortage at the end of a shift would mean “getting taxed,” a term used to foreshadow mental or physical punishment that would be imposed on a worker. There have been many documented cases where managers or the “food bosses” exert physical force and severely beat the runners for losing product. Many of these cases have involved a runner’s finger being cut off and hours of beatings. There are countless incidents where youth have been kidnapped, tortured and threatened at a gunpoint, simply because runners have lost the product to police or rival gang members. To top it off. even if some manage to keep some of their ill-gotten gains, they have no legitimate place to keep their money.
Many aspects of street-level drug dealing can appear enticing, seemingly safe with little risk and high reward. It is a misconception by young runners that they are able to acquire a lot of money during a short period of time without exerting much effort. But because drug dealers have no loyalty towards one another, if the situation requires one to save their own life, these gang members will turn on each other in the blink of an eye. We have seen kids as young as 17 and 18-years-old murdered for being “just a drug dealer”.
What you do as a parent, a sibling, or a guardian
I strongly suggest parents keep informed of their children’s daily activities, whether it is school or work. Time and time again, children commonly lie about their jobs to their parents. We have heard stories about many runners who tell their parents that they are helping with their friend’s family business or that they work as a security guard to explain their absence during the day or most of the night. The excuses are endless, but the reality can become quickly obvious if you pay attention as a parent. One indicator that your child may be generating income from an illegal source is unexplained cash. If you witness your child carrying hefty amounts of cash or find bundles of money in your home, it is in your best interest to ask where it came from. Another sign that your child may be involved in this business is short trips being made at all hours in the day as drug transactions happen fairly quickly and often during the day. Multiple cell phones are also noteworthy and may be an indicator that your child is involved in some sort of illegal activity.
Even though these are strong indicators, one should always use caution before jumping to conclusions. Sometimes, a young person can exhibit one of these signs and is simply being a teenager. However, a combination of these indicators can be treated as a clear warning sign.
I am not encouraging parents to become suspicious of their child’s every action or spy on them. Parents also need to trust their children and provide space as necessary during their teenage years so they grow into confident and independent adults. However, it is very important and critical to know where your child is at any given time and the type of activities or work that they engage in. The ideal way to become aware of various aspects of your child’s life is not to dedicate your time to keeping tabs on what they are doing , but rather letting them come to you, showing them support, and engaging in positive two-way communication. Trust is an essential factor that leads to open communication. It is important to make your child feel safe and important. An active role and awareness is important to prevent your child from falling prey to the lures of organized crime.
For more information on gang prevention please visit endganglife.ca
Detective Jag Khosa
Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit -BC
For the last 10 years, he has been serving as a Police officer starting as an enforcement officer in Alberta and BC, and then transitioning into his current role as a Detective with Organized Crime Agency of BC which operates under the umbrella of Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit – BC (CFSEU-BC).
At CFSEU, he had an opportunity be part of many major case investigations relating to homicides, international drug trafficking, weapons trafficking and other activities of organized crime groups. These projects were aimed at disrupting and suppressing gangs and organized crime groups across Canada. On the enforcement side, CFSEU-BC has been at the forefront in our fight against Gangs and Organized crime.
Detective Khosa believes that this is the right time to place greater emphasis on raising public awareness by educating parents and youth with knowledge and the appropriate skills that they could use in their own journey towards happy families and safer communities. He believes that it is imperative to spread the message that we as a community can take an active role at a preventative stage and no one has to fight this battle alone. Turning around a misguided young person starts with one-on-one intervention. Parents who become involved with their child’s life from an early age had a higher chance of keeping their young ones away from negative influence of gangs. This article is his attempt to initiate a dialogue on a subject that needs to be widely discussed.