Prime Time Crime


(Published in the Chilliwack Times week of Nov. 10, 2008)


Thereís something not quite right about gangster chic


  By John Martin

It seems not a week goes by we donít hear of yet another shooting incident involving a known gang member or associate. For years, many assumed such activities were confined to the Greater Vancouver area. But as we now all well know, no jurisdiction is immune from these happenings. More and more they are becoming a common occurrence throughout the Fraser Valley and other parts of the province.

Inevitably, when someone dies during these altercations we are treated to the recurring story about "what a great guy he was." Family and friends are quoted in news media extolling the virtues of the deceased and praising him as a wonderful father and brother. We hear how great a friend he was who would do anything for someone in need.

Then the roadside shrines with flowers and bad poems are set up. These are followed by Facebook tributes full of kind and fond words. In no small part, this attitude tends to legitimize and normalize gang activity. No one whose brother had just been shot to death by the father of a child he had been molesting would talk about what a great guy he was. No one who abducts and rapes women would be lionized on a web site after one of his victims managed to stab him to death.

But somehow it is perfectly normal to sing the praises of gangsters gunned down by rivals. It begs the question why there is so much acceptance and tolerance for such activity. Perhaps the gangster thing has been so thoroughly sanitized by The Godfather and Goodfellas that thereís just no social stigma to it anymore. Thereís been something likeable about every fictional gangster over the years from Little Caesar to Tony Soprano.

Maybe the willingness to tolerate this lifestyle is a consequence of the manner in which weíve romanticized the gangster lifestyle through the decades. We have seen thug culture find its way into clothing fashions, music and day to day conversation. Iíve lost track how many times Iíve been having conversations with students and they slip into their poor imitation of Al Pacinoís silly Cuban accent from Scarface.

But the outpouring of love and grief when a gang member gets gunned down is quite revealing. What effort did any of these friends and loved ones make to get the person out of that lifestyle? We always hear the same old story that "he was just getting ready to start a new life." Even if one is to believe this it begs the question, what took him so long? Where were his friends and loved ones a week ago or last month?

Weíre all social creatures who need some degree of approval and acceptance. So long as gang members continue to receive this from so called friends and loved ones, and we continue to romanticize thug life in popular culture, the cycle of violence will be a difficult one to break.

John Martin is a Criminologist at the University College of the Fraser Valley and can be contacted at


Prime Time Crime

Contributing 2008