I grew up in downtown Chino Hills, and here’s how tough a neighborhood it was. There was a park near my house, and the gang often met at it. One night I was walking my dog through the park, and the gang was there, standing on either side of the path. I nodded at them, and they nodded back.
That happened a lot.
It was a multi-ethnic gang. Whites, Asians, Hispanics, and one black guy who held court. “You don’t know what it’s like to be stabbed,” that kind of thing. I guess he was enjoying himself.
Sometimes they would tag stuff–sometimes with spray paint, more often with chalk or marker. But mostly, someone would bring a six pack of beer, which they’d manage to down between the twelve of them, and they’d shoot the shit. If they were feeling especially naughty and wild, they might leave the beer cans strewn around the park. But mostly they put them in the trash, because, “gotta cover our tracks.”
Sometimes a police officer would drive up and shine a massive flashlight at them without getting out of his car. Bright white. They’d slink behind the hill, out of sight, then take off running. I felt like there was an unspoken agreement between the gangbangers and the police that they wouldn’t do anything really wrong, and the police wouldn’t really try to catch them. They just gave each other something to do.
When it was getting late, the ones who lived close would walk home. The one’s who lived further would get picked up by their mom’s. In Minivans.
That’s become my everlasting image of gangs. A bunch of High-Schoolers meeting up for a role-playing game, except someone forgot the dice. I suspect it’s not a representative image.
There is now, in downtown Chino Hills, where I still live, a new gang. I know, because I’ve been seeing primitive attempts at tagging, mostly on things people have to look at, like stop signs and gas station signs. Y CHINO x3. The stem of the Y is all squiggly.
I suppose they might be dangerous. But I really believe, in my heart of hearts, beneath reason, that if I should come across them, I’ll nod, they’ll nod back, and that’ll be that.