Initial reports of the arrest of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez included hints of a dark shadow life. Certain tattoos on his body may or may not advertise gang affiliations. The 23 year old Hernandez denies them. Gang unit investigators have yet to confirm it one way or the other.
If true, it brings a new angle to the disturbing world of gangs. They are supposed to be creatures of poverty. Those who do make money in them do so as criminals, making it hard to jump to a legitimate lifestyle. Even rappers feel the need to maintain some connection "to the streets" to keep up their "street cred", whatever that is worth to those gunned down as a consequence.
Hernandez, again, if he does have affiliations, would be a young man, educated in a highly respected university, who made his money completely free of the gang life. Yet he still may have found living in that style preferable to finding new friends, new hangouts, and a responsible path forward.
Gang violence increased over a recent ten year period, but decreased slightly between 2008 and 2010, according to the FBI.
Cultural perceptions of gangs, from Italian organized crime "families" to the street variety, range from portraying them as scum of the earth to representatives of tarnished virtue. Almost nowhere, however, does one see the people involved as inherently weak.
It's hard to blame some kids for getting involved. Living in dangerous neighborhoods, some kids might seek out a gang to make them feel secure. If it cannot protect them at all times, it can at least avenge any insult or assault. But joining for that reason is a decision borne of weakness, even if one cannot blame the kid for being vulnerable in the first place.
Most gang violence occurs when a large group from gang A finds a smaller group or an individual of a rival gang and attacks. Sneak, or surprise attacks are common. The tactic is to stack the odds to reduce the possibility of harm to the attackers. These reflect modes of fighting common in guerrilla warfare, especially when the number of proven and capable fighters is limited. Stonewall Jackson, with his usually smaller army, preferred to bring his entire force to bear on an isolated extension of his opponents' lines.
But these tactics are a reflection of weakness, regardless of the violent results.
Criminal enterprises also confess a lack of strength. Gangs gain revenues by combining entrepreneurial skill with enough force to create a limited geographical monopoly.
Again, this is weakness. They fear the risk and reward process of the truly competitive free market. Being a criminal, rather than a businessman, enables one to bring force to bear. Being a better businessman is hard. Killing your competition or threatening their families is relatively easier.
But it is still, from a business standpoint, a tactic of weakness, a confession that the individual could not "hack it" in the "real world."
Purveyors of popular culture could strike a blow against violence by making sure that movies about gangs and their lifestyle teach that those involved are essentially weak individuals. Martin Scorcese's Good Fellas portrayed gangsters as anything but good, which gives it a positive message. How many other films (or for that matter, Bio channel documentaries) about the Mafia or street gangs even include that element?
If guilty of his crimes, Aaron Hernandez was a thoroughly weak individual regardless of whether or not he was in a gang. What insult to his soul was worth one or more lives? What good did it do him to commit one of the most stupidly executed murders in some time? Despite his physical strength and his football field prowess, Aaron Hernandez was likely a very weak man.
Just the kind of person perfect for a gang.