, Research Paper
To the Editor of the Billings Gazette:
The “Old West” has changed. Instead of youths traveling into the back country with their fathers to hunt game to support their families, youths are purchasing guns for show rather than theoretical use. Family structures have also changed significantly. Instead of mothers ringing the triangle bells for their children to return home for dinner, they are dialing the telephone in order to reach their son or daughter, via their beeper. Although, there is a significant change in “Modern Montanan” society as compared to “Classical Montanan” society, residents as well as school officials are over reacting to the changes that adolescents are undergoing.
I am a Freshman attending Montana State University. The curriculum theme for my Fall Semester English class, is gang activity. The curriculum gives possible insight into causes of gang activity. By studying the subject matter diligently, I have come to comprehend that with the ever changing times come changes in style, life, and attitude.
In the May 31, 1997 issue of the Billings Gazette, members of the Sky View High School described several individuals who simply formed a club that was labeled the Beer Mafia. According to the article “Image and Implication”, “Members of the group, their parents and even other students at Sky View High School consider the Beer Mafia as nothing more than a group of friends who came up with the name as a joke.” It is the dramatic changing times that are forcing inhabitants of Montana to come up with an explanation for the dress, the actions, and the attitudes of youths. Elder individuals are not used to these changes. They strive to find a reason for these changes. By labeling the Beer Mafia as a gang and doing research on it, the Billings authorities are only worsening the problem. Once labeled by society, and individual is most likely to fulfill the label put on by society. After all, “Sky View student Body President Paul Gannon said he and most of the other students don’t identify the Beer Mafia as a gang. All of them have gone to school together for years, and the group doesn’t frighten the other students, he said.”
While studying the materials for my College Writing class, I encountered a list of five theories as to why an individual would participate in gang activities in “Gangs: A Reference Handbook” compiled by Karen Kinnear. After researching these theories, it was apparent that schools are the foremost offenders of overreacting and pushing adolescents into believing that they are gang affiliated.
Many school officials have instated rules that are discriminatory towards individuals and do more to push an adolescent into gang and violent activity than to deter them. Simply because an individual wears a hat, is tardy to school, and holds a beeper doesn’t mean that they are a gang member. In fact, many individuals in my class who attended Bozeman High School quoted on saying that “these factors described almost everyone in Bozeman High School.” In the September 27, 1997 issue of The Billings Gazette an article entitled “Hats off, locks on” described a situation in Billings West High School in which students weren’t allowed to wear hats because the Dean of Students, Rusty Martin felt that the hats may contribute to possible gang activity in the Billings area. “Dean Rusty Martin stresses the importance of not judging people on their looks.” This seems just the opposite to me. By judging his students, he is identifying them only by the paraphernalia that they portray on their According to the Labeling Theory, Dean Martin’s actions are doing more to force possible gang activity than to deter it. Because Martin labels hat wearing students as possible gang members, he and the rest of the faculty at West Billings High School contribute to youths fulfilling labels put on by society. Simply because an individual walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, and looks like duck doesn’t necessarily mean that they are a duck. Many of these “gang labeled” individuals have probably not even committed a crime. However, according to Rusty Martin, they are encouraging gang activity, and according to the Labeling Theory, if society sees them as a threat, they in turn see themselves as a threat. It seems as if Martin is telling his students that if they are wearing a hat they will be associated with gangs. In doing this, he is doing the exact opposite of his statement. He is labeling his students and doing more to push them into gang activity than to deter them from it. He is portraying the Labeling theory.
In an interview with gang members, by the gang researcher, Felix Padilla, entitled, ” The Gang as an American Enterprise”, an example of intense changes between generations is depicted. Tony described how his parents worked diligently in order to provide only a meager lifestyle for him. They lived life by the threadbare, and income was transient in the household. Tony sought a different lifestyle, not necessarily of riches, but a steady base. The gang was the answer to his problems. The same occurrence can be seen in the choice of straying away from parents lifestyle in an article entitled, “Joining a Gang” by Martin Sanchez Jankowski. In the article, one individual quoted upon his parents lifestyle, and how the gang was more a place of refuge than his own home was. “Nobody else would have given it to me; my parents didn’t have it, and there was no other place to go.” Both of these examples portray how an individual was pushed into a gang. These problems are apparent in cities such as New York and Los Angeles. While reading several articles excerpted from the Billings Gazette, there was no real evidence as to real gang involvement, such as was described in the Padilla interviews, and the Jankowski article. However it was apparent that the actions that are being taken by adults and authorities alike are leading to possible gang activity that can be seen by the examples in the Jankowski article and the Padilla interviews. By associating adolescents in gang activity, adults and authorities are simply pushing youths into believing that they are “gang related.”
In conclusion, the city of Billings needs to find different solution to its changing times. It needs another explanation for the dramatic changes of society. Possibly, if authorities focused their efforts on truly criminal gang problems instead of persecuting innocent high school students, who are simply portraying their sense of fashion, there wouldn’t be such a problem. Citizens of Montana also need to accept change in a positive fashion. Instead of seeing change as a problem, Montanan citizens should look at change as an opportunity to be enlightened, and culturally touched.