Signs of the times

October 16, 2008 

I don't get too many reader responses, so I'm always surprised when I do.

More often than not, it's somebody who was featured in the photo looking for a free copy.

But this shot of the Eastern Washington Elite Dance team after winning three first-place trophies at the National Dance Team Championship in Orlando, Fla. concerned one reader to the point of correspondence.

Strike an Inappropriate Pose
"Maybe I am confused but the photo that the Tri-City Herald featured on the sports page seemed to encourage gang sign flashing. I am not sure what message the herald is trying to send, on page B1 they talk about a gang violence bill that, "seek civil injunctions to keep gang members from, among other things, associating with each other, flashing gang signs." The Elite Dance team should get earned recognition I just think that the photographer and writer should think about what kind of a message they send when they make hand signs associated with gangs an acceptable action. Would that photo be acceptable if it was a group of gang members or maybe just a group of kids not associated with a dance team? If a student took a pose, like some of the ladies have in this photo, towards a police officer or a school official would it be acceptable? I think not. Let's treat our kids fairly and with self respect, gang signs are unacceptable no matter who is flashing them."

So I wrote back: "Thanks for writing in with your concerns. The pose they striking in that photo is one that ends their hip-hop dance routine. While I can see how one might mistake some of their gestures as gang signs, I assure you that they are not."

And the reader responded: "I spoke with some student that have friends in gangs and they told me they are gang signs. The girls in the back row with their hands in the air means "Bring it On" Like I will take you down. The one with her fingers pointing to the ground also is a aggressive stance. I don’t have the student with me right now to have them tell me what it meant. The girl with her hand raised in the air with her middle fingers crossed is making a W with her hand and that is West side, with her hand in the air it is an aggressive action. I deal with kids everyday and these type of action are not accepted. I realize they may not mean it in that way. Because of the current events that are happening in our area I don't think even a remote glamorization of gangs is appropriate or acceptable. I called and spoke with a sheriff before I wrote my letter to make sure I was correct on what I thought I was seeing. They assured me it was not appropriate and would be considered gang related hand signs. I realize that hip-hop tries to make gangs acceptable but again I will state that it is not and should not be accepted by anyone!"

I opted out of responding a second time.

I’ll admit, I have never had a close encounter with gang activity. Sure, at my high school in Albany, Ore. we had some gangbangers, but for the most part they were posers. And my high school being West Albany made the west side gang sign the reader referred to ever so popular to flash.

Except that when we did it, we displayed the "W" so that you could tell it was a "W."

Are gangs a problem? Of course. Although graffiti comprises much of the gang activity in the Tri-Cities, the towns of Yakima, Grandview and Sunnyside see frequent gang-related violence. It's not funny and it's not welcome. In fact, we ran a story Wednesday about how gangs are a growing problem here in the Tri-Cities.

But running this photo doesn't glamorize or promote gangs. I didn’t ask them to pose like that, and as I said in my brief response, that is the type of pose they end their routines with. Besides, I couldn’t dream of doing a better job glamorizing gangs than 1996’s Don't Be a Menace to South Central While Drinking Your Juice in the Hood.

However, just like when a newspaper runs a photo of a kid riding a bike without a helmet, what ends up in print is inexplicably seen by some as an endorsement. Newspapers serve as records of their communities. We show the good, the bad, the ugly and the cliché. Nitpicking a photo that you perceive as a gang endorsement does nothing to address the core issue. Too often, the dialogue surrounding serious issues gets lost in the inconsequential minutiae — as is made painfully clear in every election.

So the next time you think your local fish wrapper is placing its stamp of approval on something you deem controversial, stop.

Take a breath.

And think about the root of the issue.

Nobody ever joined a gang because of a hip hop dance troupe.

~~~~~

kyau@tricityherald.com
(509) 585-7205
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