Understanding Calgary Gangs: Greater Acceptance Means Less Need for Defence

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Most adult Calgarians will remember a time about a decade ago when Calgary was gripped by fear. Two rival gangs had emerged, and their turf wars had increased the level of gun violence in our city several times over. Then, a combination of law enforcement action and substantially increased social outreach meant to rehabilitate gang members and prevent at-risk youths from joining gangs seemed to be taking hold. The violence diminished, and the gangs eventually disappeared.

Now we're seeing more headlines about gang violence again, even though the violence is at nowhere near the level it reached a decade ago, and even though the "gangs" Calgary sees today are nothing like the gangs we used to fear. While it's true that any violence is bad, and that any sort of "gang" by any definition is likely an unwanted element in our city, coming to a better understanding of gangs—both those of the past and the present—makes it clear that this is not a simple or a single-sided issue, and that Calgary might have deeper problems that contribute to the emergence of gangs.

Calgary's FOB and FK Gangs

The major "gang war" of the previous decade took place between the "Fresh Off the Boat" or FOB gang, and a group that splintered away from this gang and became the rival "Fresh Off the Boat Killers" or FK gang. Both gangs originated within Calgary's immigrant community, specifically the Cambodian/Southeast Asian community that saw high levels of growth in the last years of the twentieth century. Social analysts who have studied the issue generally and those who have specifically studied the events in Calgary have concluded that individuals who felt they were culturally "outside" or "other" were the most likely to turn to gang violence.

Greater acceptance and outreach of the immigrant population ultimately played a large role in eradicating these gangs, and had this acceptance happened sooner there would likely have been less of a gang problem to begin with.

Even so, it was always a small minority of the Southeast Asian population in Calgary that became gang members. Yet for some time our city experienced racial tension by identifying that ethnicity with gang participation. That, of course, has the opposite of the desired effect—suspicion based on ethnicity creates less acceptance and wider divides, which means more people feeling isolated and "other," which encourages gang affiliation.

Modern Calgary "Gangs"

Today's "gangs" in Calgary are much smaller, looser organizations, and don't really resemble yesteryear's gangs at all. Alleged gang members do, however, often come from non-European ethnic groups, and from the families of immigrants to Calgary. Feelings of isolation, otherness, and racial tension still in exist in our city, and they are still contributing to the same problems.

Let's all work together to create an atmosphere and a society of true acceptance. Due that, and everyone will have less to fear from gangs, just as we have little to fear from any of our fellow Calgarians.

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