Tag Archives: Luis Rodriguez

Living in gangland: Former gang member turned educator talks about the globalization of a violent culture

By Jake Thomas, Staff Writer

Luis Rodriguez joined an East Los Angeles street gang when he was just 11 years old. After living a tumultuous life that involved numerous arrests, drug use and a stint being homeless, which he documents in his memoir “Always Running:  La Vida Loca, Gang Days in L.A.,” he turned away from the violent life, becoming a respected activist and community leader. He also began working as a journalist for various newspapers in California and became the editor of the People’s Tribune, a radical newspaper that covered labor issues, homelessness and the arts.

The highly praised author of both poetry and nonfiction is an outspoken critic of more conventional lock-’em-all-up approaches to combating gangs, which Rodriguez says are shortsighted and make the problem worse. Rodriguez says that we are in an age of gang globalization that is being driven by policies in the U.S.

In recent years, Portland has seen an uptick in gang violence, including a rash of shootings. All of which has community leaders and city officials stepping up actions to respond to the public outry. Rodriguez weighs in on some of the approaches being advocated in response, what drives kids to join gangs, and how far it’s gone beyond the kids in the hood.

Jake Thomas: How have gangs changed in the past 20 years. Who is joining them today?

Luis Rodriguez: It used to be more about protection, but now it’s more about drugs and money. The vast majority of kids who join gangs — that vast majority — are not violent. Most of them aren’t even criminally involved. They join gangs for reasons that have to do with fitting in. They think they’ll get respect. Some of them will get in trouble, but they’re not really gangsters.

But the hardcore part of the gang — it’s hard to say what that is, maybe 10 percent — that hardcore group drives most of the violence. They’re the ones that go in and out of the prison system. The prison system trains them to be better at it. Better gangsters, better shot-callers. The prison system is like the school for the advanced gang leaders, so what’s happening is because we have such a great proliferation of prisons in this country, you’re getting a greater proliferation of hardcore gang members entering communities, schools and neighborhoods where kids would join gangs but not necessarily be hardcore. But with hardcore gang members among them, a lot more tends to happen. Continue reading

Extra! Extra!

It’s the land of plenty in Portland – music, brews and sun for everyone! And nothing goes better with all three than Street Roots, hot off the press. Swing by your favorite neighborhood vendor this weekend and pick up a copy for you and your friends. Your vendor has the lowdown on what’s inside:

Living in gangland:  Former gang member turned educator Luis Rodriguez talks with Jake Thomas about the globalization of a violent culture, and the lessons to be learned for Portland.

Raising lettuce and leaders in North Portland: Stacy Brownhill reports on the rising importance of programs like Food Works to connect disadvantaged youths with the roots of food production.

The eyes of hope: An interview with photographer David Burnett who’s iconic images span 40 years. He’s now participating in Photographers for Hope, which recently launched an exhibit working with street paper vendors in Glasgow Scotland. Plus, a sampling of the photos that are part of the exhibit, “Eyes of the Streets.”

Summer Art Workshops: A collection of writings from the Downtown Chapel writing group that capture the beauty and sadness of the streets.

And much, much more! Including commentary from the Bicycle Transportation Alliance, Partnership for Safety and Justice, and Veterans for Peace on their upcoming conference in Portland. The summer is packed, and so is this edition of Street Roots – get yours before their gone!