There’s a rather odd story coming out of the South Pacific today. Published at stuff.co.nz is “The growing fear of Pacific gang life” from Fairfax Media.
Al-Qaeda and fellow international terrorists are said to threaten failing Pacific states but as Michael Field reports the real menace comes from the streets of America and south Auckland.
They’re shadowy and amoral; big and vicious men, now living in every village in Polynesia.
They learned their trade with American street gangs like the Sons of Samoa and the Tongan Crip Gang (TCG).
Samoan Warriors Bounty Hunters, Tongan Crip Regulators, Tongan Style Gang and the Baby Regulators fill out the world of hoods, hand signals, graffiti and crime.
And, according to the article, “they are mostly from Latter-day Saint families.”
The claim is that these young people once lived in the United States, Australia, and New Zealand. When they became uncontrollable they were sent “home” to the Pacific Island nations to be rehabilitated. But these kids brought the “skills” they learned in the inner cities of the U.S. with them, resulting in a burgeoning gang problem in the South Pacific.
Trouble became apparent last November 16th when riots erupted in the Tongan capitol of Nuku’alofa. When all was said and done, eighty percent of the business district of the city had been destroyed and eight people were dead. Since then, the police have been working hard to find the people responsible for what has come to be known as “Black Thursday.” Fairfax Media reports:
Around 1100 people have since been arrested — with New Zealand police help — and over half are TCG who are mostly from Mormon Latter Day Saint (LDS) families.
LDS makes exaggerated claims to have 46,000 followers in Tonga and hundreds of families over the decades have gone to Salt Lake City in Utah, the church’s headquarters.
Salt Lake has turned into a gang melting pot and [University of the South Pacific educator] Dr Taufe’ulungaki claims Mormon children, who joined TCG, have since been deported back to Tonga. Joined by disaffected youth from New Zealand they destroyed Nuku’alofa.
When I first read this article I thought it sounded a bit far-fetched. But then I found “The Gangs of Zion” which appeared in the Utah publication High Country News in August of 2005. According to journalist Tim Sullivan,
Polynesian kids don’t seem to fit the profile of gang members, however. Most Pacific Islander families are the picture of stability. And most Polynesian families in Utah belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the pillar of family values and respectability. Because of the Mormon Church, in fact, Utah is home to the largest Tongan, Samoan and other Pacific Islander communities in the United States outside of Hawaii and California.
Yet while Islanders make up only about 1 percent of the Salt Lake Valley’s population, they comprise 13 percent of the documented gang members. Detectives say that Polynesian gangs stand out due to their violence. Because of their intimidating physical size, their members often serve as enforcers for other gangs that traffic in drugs. They’re known for their brutal fistfights, and for shooting at their rivals and at law enforcement officials.
Polynesian parents find it hard to believe that their churchgoing children are involved in the American scourge of gang violence. Their communities are supposed to embody everything this valley has stood for: family, faith and a new beginning.
But the “happy valley” in the heart of the Mormon Zion has become a crowded battleground. The Polynesian Saints traveled thousands of miles from one group of islands only to find themselves in another. On the west side of Salt Lake city, ethnic communities are islands unto themselves, surrounded by a sea of white suburbia; from the vantage point of West Valley City, Kearns, Taylorsville and West Jordan, the mountains that edge this valley only increase the sense of isolation.
Utah has a serious gang problem. I would even say the LDS Church has a serious gang problem. But apparently the Church would disagree with me. Tim Sullivan wrote:
Yet the Polynesian and law enforcement communities have had to work to get the church brass to listen. At one point in the mid-1990s, Isi Tausinga bluntly laid out the issue for members of the church First Presidency and General Authority. The church now has a representative on a local gang project committee, and has donated money to the Gang Unit’s annual conferences, but 20 years into the gang problem, top church officials don’t necessarily see themselves as having a role in solving it. Church spokeswoman Kim Farah says the Church prefers that local leaders like Purcell address the issues within their wards. That is not enough for Dorothy Fa’asou, who works on intercultural communication issues with Laie Association Utah. “The church has got to face up to these gang issues. It is too big for the community alone,” she says. “We came here for the church, and the problems happened here, in Utah, in the church. For too long, they have ignored it.”
The people of the Pacific Island nations are understandably frustrated. The imported gang members are negatively influencing Islander kids. Fairfax Media says these gang members
“live within villages and indoctrinate the young, the youth of the country. They are not isolated; they live together with the village people. They are in every community…
“They have no commitment, they are totally amoral, they have no commitment to anybody, no affiliation, they have no loyalty to anybody and they come with a great deal of hatred because they have been sent away from the people they know from their own environment to live with people they have never seen before in a totally alien environment.”
Labelled ‘remittance children’, they are the off-spring of hard working migrant parents with two or three low paying jobs in the alien societies. The children grow up on working class streets picking up bad habits.
They are turned into gang members by their host societies, not by the Pacific countries. They should not be deported back to the Pacific which cannot cope.
“It’s not our problem… We need to work with the countries, Australia, New Zealand and the US, not to deport their home grown problems into the Pacific, as a first step.”
The parents of these kids aren’t able to rescue them. The problem is too big for Utah communities to deal with. The LDS Church doesn’t see these troubled member-children as a problem that requires its resources. The Pacific nations can’t cope with the influx of Mormon gang members. Who will help these kids?
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the LORD,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
A thoughtful post on a serious issue.
I’ve seen the violence of these types of gangs firsthand. In my Rose Park neighborhood. Right next door.
After a serious fistfight broke out amoung my Pacific Island neighbors, almost right in my front yard, (and yes, there were some gunshots) the police arrived to get things in order. A few of the kids started singing “I am a child of God” as they sat handcuffed in the driveway.
“top church officials don’t necessarily see themselves as having a role in solving it.”
Should we be surprised by the LDS Church’s failure to take responsibility?
Is this not the same response and attitude in regards to polygamy? the Mountain Meadows Massacre of Sept. 11, 1857 ? etc.
Hey! its tough being the ‘one true church on the face of the earth’!!