What’s working and what’s not in combating Fort Worth’s gangs | Guest columns...

Special to the Star-Telegram November 15, 2009

More than 25 years of hardnosed professional law enforcement efforts have been levied toward gang violence in Fort Worth. Cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City have nearly a century of addressing gang violence. Unfortunately, cities large and small continue to report an increase in the number of gangs and gang membership.
Are we living in a state of diminished returns, or is hope alive?
Although our local government and social service agencies are hard at work in reducing levels of gang violence in our communities, there continues to be an urgency to understand the impact of gang violence and what is — and isn’t — working.
In communities throughout the country, the notion of admitting or denying that a gang problem exists is a common struggle. Admitting that gangs exist should not mean that nothing else needs to be done. Denying that there are gangs does not make our community is safer, because we do not address the problem.
Communities that openly admit the presence of gangs understandably are more head-on in addressing the problem. Once a community admits there’s a problem, people become angry. That’s the time when they will commit to positive change.
Gangs will continue to haunt our communities for the next 200 years unless and until the outcries for change outnumber the lives lost to gang violence. Only then will communities become safer.
One proposal that would minimize gang presence is for lawmakers to discontinue passing ineffective legislation that institutionalizes youth instead of rehabilitating them while addressing the issues that pushed them into gangs in the first place. When poverty, illiteracy and mental health issues are properly addressed, the attraction to gangs will decrease.
The combined efforts of law enforcement, schools, social services and churches work. Citizen policing groups such as Code Blue and Ministers Against Crime are highly beneficial. Crime Stoppers and Imagine No Violence campaigns are powerful anti-violence initiatives. Behavioral and lifestyle improvement programs offered by nonprofit agencies such as UMOJA and the Boys and Girls Clubs continue to demonstrate great success stories.
The missions and goal statements of these entities and programs are being realized because many of us have decided it is unacceptable for our youth to remain ill-prepared for the realities of life. An increasing population of unprepared and undereducated youth forces us all to respond quickly, effectively and practically.
So, what isn’t working? There are more gangs and drugs in America than ever before, and the numbers are steadily rising. More than 785,000 gang members are reported to exist in the U.S., and billions of dollars are spent yearly toward the "War on Drugs."
The yearly cost of sustaining a young person in prison far exceeds the cost of educating our youth in public schools or sponsoring them at the local community center. It is clear that law enforcement cannot arrest away the problem. Many of our young people are angry at their communities, and they express that anger through unacceptable behaviors such as truancy, chemical dependency and gang involvement.
Our children are angry. When will we get angry?
I highly recommend that communities seek realistic solutions. The key to addressing gangs or any social issue may be as simple as ABC: Affirm, believe and commit. Affirm there is a problem, believe that you have or can garner the resources needed to address it, and commit to change.

Wafeeq S. Sabir of Fort Worth is a 23-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department. More than 18 years of that service was spent in the gang unit.

Alternative School or Prison


Wafeeq Sabir, Ph.D

Throughout my career as an educator and my experiences traveling domestic and overseas, I see that many public alternative schools operate under prison-like conditions. I do not totally disagree with the discipline and structure needed in many of these schools but what our children must understand is that by attending these schools, they are subconsciously preparing themselves for prison. Due to the often ill-tempered nature of some students and those with mental health issues, administrators of alternative schools feel as if they have no other choice in the structuring of the school environment. I often tell students that because society views many of you as violent, aggressive, or out of control, you signal to society that it is okay to place you in an institution of semi-confinement when you cannot maintain self-control. Where else in our American society do we search, restrict movement and speech, and marched to and from locations, prison. I suggest too many of these students to take back their freedoms. One’s freedom should not be a privilege, it is a fundamental right. The primary way of maintaining one’s freedom is to never place yourself in situations where you have to forfeit it. I also challenge students in alternative schools to put these schools out of business by not returning.

Criminal Responsibility at 10


Wafeeq Sabir, PhD

Harvard psychologist B.F. Skinner is noted for his behavioral theories "which focused on the background of behavior and reinforcers" (Lefton, 2000, p.330). His works attempted to compare the relationship of changes within the environment, and how individuals respond to the changes within the environment. Skinner and other behaviorists claim that one's development is based on their past experiences in life, rather than genetics.
Psychologist Lev Vygotsky viewed child development through a sociocultural setting. He declared that a child's skills and knowledge base are all connected to the culture of that individual (Lefton, 2000).

Because social factors may precipitate delinquent behavior; including one's culture, socio-economic status, and peer association, children should be held accountable for delinquent conduct. In Texas, a child between the ages of 10 and 16 is deemed as criminally responsible for their actions (Texas, 2005). A 10 year old child who steals a pair of expensive basketball shoes under the intimidation constraints of being assaulted by an older adolescent is still criminally responsible. I believe that each case lies on its own merit and would have to be dealt with accordingly. A 10 year old who does this act out of fear or for survival purposes may however exhibit this behavior as a result of negative reinforcement but may also develop a sense of acceptance by others which may result in continuous delinquent behavior (Bartol, 2002). APA (2000) suggests that the behavior may be characteristic of Childhood Onset Conduct Disorder if the behavior continues.

American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

Bartol, C. R. (2002). Criminal behavior: A psychosocial approach (6th ed.). Upper Sadle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Lefton, L. A. (2000). Psychology (7th ed.). Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Texas criminal and traffic law manual (2005-2006 ed.). (2005). Charlottesville, VA: LexisNexis

Displaced Aggression and Freud


Wafeeq Sabir. Ph.D

Psychoanalysis founder, Sigmund Freud noted that the human personality is divided into three parts, the id, ego, and superego; each part developing at different times but contributing to the overall welfare of the individual. An explanation of criminality suggests that when the superego is not strong enough to correct the impulsive desires of the id, deviance and criminal behavior results. Freud’s psychoanalytical approach to this issue is known as displaced aggression (Henslin, 2002). The concept of displaced aggression allows for the outward expression of aggression upon the source of unhappiness. Individuals often redirect their anger towards other targets that are less likely to fight back or offer resistance. Displaced aggression offers an understanding of a motive for prejudice and a strong opinion of why individuals may focus their anger towards innocent bystanders (Taylor et al., 2000). School safety experts and researchers continue to search for a reasonable explanation for youth violence. Social learning perspectives suggest an imperfect society while psychoanalytical perspectives suggest an imbalanced psyche (Barkan, 2001). The reality is that no one theory totally explains why some individuals treasure life, while others resort to gun violence and murder (Glazer, 2003).


Barkan, S. E. (2001). Criminology: A sociological understanding (2nd ed.). Upper Saddleriver, New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

Glazer, S. (2003, October 31). Serial killers, CQ Researcher, 13(38), 917-940.

Henslin, J. M. (2002). Essentials to sociology: A down-to-earth approach. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Taylor, S. E., Peplau, L. A., & Sears, D. O., (2000). Social psychology. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Incompetency to Stand Trial


Wafeeq Sabir, Ph.D

Incompetency to stand trial in Texas is an illusionary concept for many youth offenders. The intricacy of the law continues to generate amendments from lawmakers each session. So, if age should be considered a deficiency that influences competency and culpability, at what age should a youth offender be sufficiently competent to stand trial as an adult?

Texas Criminal (2005) states a person is incompetent to stand trial if the person does not have:
(1) sufficient present ability to consult with the person's lawyer with a reasonable degree of rational understanding; or
(2) a rational as well as factual understanding of the proceedings against the person.
(b) A defendant is presumed competent to stand trial and shall be found competent to stand trial unless proved incompetent by a preponderance of the evidence (pg.447).

However, an individual who has been determined through a hearing, to be mentally ill or retarded, may be committed to a mental facility or maximum security unit that houses mental defendants. It may be determined at a later date that the defendant is competent to stand trial after proper restorative treatments. If this is the premise that determines whether a juvenile is sufficiently competent to stand trial, then age will always be of a subjective opinion. Texas Criminal (2005) suggests that an individual 14 years of age or older can be certified to stand trial as an adult. Under Texas law, a 10-year old offender is deemed criminally responsible. Lawmakers assert that this is an appropriate age of competency.

Texas criminal and traffic law manual (2005-2006 ed.). (2005). Charlottesville, VA: LexisNexis

School Violence and the Active Shooter-Abstract


Wafeeq Sabir, Ph.D

Increasing juvenile violence and gun access has established a closer examination of school shootings and the social and psychological aspects that causes an adolescent to shoot and kill others. Politicians, psychologists, child experts, and others cast blame on a changing American culture that absorbs a liking to violent music, reality television, and violent video games. Researchers also suggest a meltdown in the moral structure that began with the removal of corporal punishment and prayer in school. Reasons vary but the typical school shooter is a White American adolescent male.

Nature versus Nurture-Biology and Social


Wafeeq Sabir, Ph.D

The nature versus nurture debate has been an issue within the field of human development since the inception of psychological studies (Santrock, 2000). Nature refers to the biological characteristics that create one’s genetic make-up. Nurture refers to the social conditions or environment that establishes one’s development (Henslin, 2002). Supporters of the nature theory believe that one’s biological inheritance is more dominant of the two, while supporters of the nurture theory suggest that environmental experiences are more dominant. I support both theories.

The nature versus nurture argument has been analyzed through the study of identical twins. Identical twins are biologically the same. They both share the same blood type, physical appearance, and DNA. The only physiological distinction is a difference in fingerprints. Twins reared in the same environment or household share the same attitudes, temperaments, and intelligence. Research of twins suggest that twins reared in separate environments and exposed to different social ideologies demonstrated nonsimilar attitudes, temperaments, and intelligence levels (Henslin, 2002). My experiences with identical twins support both theories.

I attended high school with identical twin females. They attended the same classes, enjoyed the same sporting events, and were closely ranked during time of graduation. Interestingly, at our 20-year reunion, both were cigarette smokers, shared the same occupations, and married within two months of one another. In this case, I believe that their desires and aptitudes to hold similar occupations were determined by their genetic connection. It is possible that the training received to do the same job became limited by physical or mental limitations that were due to genetic connections. However, their desire to become smokers was determined by social influences.

In analyzing the nature versus nurture argument further, the developmental process for plants and trees correlates with human development. A tree has a biological composition that allows it to become a tree. It is raised in an environment that is shared by other trees. As natural development begins, its survival is dependant upon the nourishment received from the fertility of the soil, and the exposure it receives from the sun, water, and overall social environment. Nature allows it to become a member of the ecological system, but the environment allows it to become a contributing member of society. It may become paper for textbooks, wood for fireplaces, and shelter for birds, insects, and small animals. Without the proper environmental influences, it may seize to exist or fail to reach its full potential. Human development is very similar. Biology will not go against its nature but biology can be destroyed or altered by the social condition it is placed in. The concept of nature and nurture should compliment not divide the understanding of human development.


Henslin, James M. (2002). Essentials to sociology: A down-to-earth approach. Boston, MA: Allyn and Bacon.

Santrock, John W. (2000). Children (6th ed.). Boston, MA: McGraw Hill.