So I ask him, what if I'm a kid and I really don't want any part of this gang stuff? How can I avoid it?
You can't. It's not going to happen.
He says it used to be possible to be neutral-- what they called a "neutron."
There is no neutrons anymore. It used to be if you play sports, or you were academically better than the average kid, they didn't bother you. Now it's different. It doesn't matter. If you live here, you're part of them. You live on that block, or you live in that area, you're one of them. The way they get to school, they have to come to school with one of these factions, one of these gangs. They're going to come to school with them. They don't have a choice.
I can hardly believe that a Chicago police officer is telling me this, admitting that kids don't have a choice about being gang affiliated. I've never heard police talk like this. Later, I ask Officer Washington if he'll get in trouble for saying this. I mean, aren't cops supposed to just tell kids, hey, don't join a gang?
I'll put it like this. I'm not saying it's OK to be in a gang. And I'm not saying I approve of it, I agree with it. If I could take them all and say, "hey, look here, ain't no gangs," I'd do that. But this ain't a fairy tale.
And this is the point. Gangs aren't the bad kids in the corner here. They're the defining social structure in the school. It's who you sit with at lunch, the kids you say hi to in the hallway. It's the water everybody swims in.
Assistant principal Adams guesses that fewer than 10% of Harper students are actually gangbanging. That is, active on the block, involved in crime. He thinks all the rest of the kids in the school are just caught up by where they live.