There's been a great deal of discussion in our local media about street gangs on Long Island. Following a recent incident in Roosevelt in which an 18-year-old teenager was tragically killed when he was caught in the middle of gang-related crossfire, Nassau County Executive Tom Suozzi appointed a special panel to help communities combat gang activity. Although this is a commendable first step, any attempt to address this issue effectively must include a thorough evaluation of the contributing factors that attract young people to gang membership and/or to engage in criminal or violent behaviors.
Street gangs are not a new concept. They've been around since the 1800s, as illustrated in Martin Scorsese's upcoming film, The Gangs of New York. What's new is the proliferation of youth violence and gang-related activity on Long Island. Once thought to be insulated from issues that have historically plagued our urban landscape, Long Island is no longer immune to the problems that face many of our inner cities.
There are many reasons why young people join gangs. Some of these reasons might include searching for love or structure, a sense of belonging, the need for recognition and power, a place of acceptance or the need to feel protected. There are also as many social factors that can contribute to rebellious or violent behaviors on the part of young people. Some of these might include racism, poverty and a lack of a support network, exposure to drug and alcohol abuse, violent family history and overexposure to violent images in the media.
In addition, experts suggest that in order to better understand youth gangs one must understand the cities and local communities where gangs are found. On Long Island, it also means that we must understand what resources are or are not available to help young people. We must evaluate the effectiveness of community recreational programs, social services, our educational system, available employment opportunities and health care, including mental health and substance abuse services.
Although Suozzi's approach of "zero tolerance" and prevention are commendable, any thorough or meaningful method toward prevention of gang related violence must also address other issues, including the current state and quality of family and community life within our villages and towns, a sound educational system, opportunities for recreation and socialization, the availability of programs to resolve conflict and the ability to coordinate the human service system to respond to the needs of our children and families, especially in times of crisis.
For families experiencing any of the characteristics or behaviors associated with youth violence or gang behavior, you need to seek help. There are counseling services, support groups, substance abuse programs and educational services available through organizations such as Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services. Being exposed to gang violence can be disturbing. Being victimized by violence can be devastating.
For information about counseling and substance abuse programs available at Central Nassau Guidance and Counseling Services, please call us at 822-6111.