On the morning of Sept. 11, 2011 Robert Cartagena, 20, and Tyshawn Brockington, 21, approached female high-school basketball star, Tayshana Murphy, in the courtyard of the General Ulysses S. Grant Houses in Morningside Heights, with nefarious motives in mind. Reports indicate that she fled from the scene, trying to escape the two young men.
Although she was athletic, she could not outrun them. They caught up to her, pulled out a nine-millimeter pistol and shot her three times, ending her life and dreams of playing in college and professional basketball. Reports indicate that the police discovered that Murphy became part of a troubling trend taking a hold of New York City.
Murphy was drawn into the wild life of street gangs, specifically, female gangs. The Harlem Hiltons, Hood Barbies, Billion Dolla Beauties, Gun Clappin Divas and 2 Gurl Gunnas, are just some of the female gangs that are emerging. Street gangs in this city are known for their gun-slinging and crack-dealing ways. It has got to make people wonder why females, and anyone else for that matter, are willing to form their own sets, crews, or gangs.
Young men and women from gang-ridden neighborhoods have a sense of being disenfranchised from the society at large, said Dr. Naftali Berrill. Dr. Berril is a forensic psychologist and is the director of the New York Center for Neuropsychology and Forensic Behavioral Science. He has years of experience dealing with crime and criminals and analyzing behavior.
A gang provides the affiliation. It bolsters their self-esteem, they have a ready-made group of people who seem to accept them, said Berril. Other experts in gang culture agree with Berril. They say that that young people are attracted to gangs because it provides them with a sense of identity.
The young are attracted to gangs because it provides people with a way of expressing themselves. The gang thing is just something they do to feel good about themselves, said Dr. Robert Gorot. Gorot is currently a professor of sociology at John Jay College. He has conducted extensive studies on gang life and culture. He recently wrote a book about gang life entitled Who You Claim: Performing Gang Identity in School and on the Streets.
Girls join gangs because they are repressed, said Gorot. Gorot explained that women can be a part of gangs in three different ways. They can act as add-ons. Add-ons perform tasks for the men in the gangs. They can hide drugs, guns, or drive the men around the city. However, Gorot said this could put some women in a dangerous position.
There could be a lot of abuse for women in these gangs, emotional, verbal and physical, said Gorot. Gorot also mentioned that women can also be seen as equal members in a gang, or form their own groups that are affiliated with other gangs. For example, the New York Post reported that the Gun Clappin Divas acted as an auxiliary for Gun Clappin Goonies, the gang that controls the Martin Luther King Towers.
The upsurge in female gang membership is one of the end results in a shift in society, said Berrill. Berrill said that women's continued independence drove them to earn respect, even in the inner-city.
The sex stereotype may not be holding up as it did in the past.
Murphy attended classes at Murry Bergtraum High School for Business Careers, where she lead her basketball team in assists. She was nicknamed Chicken because of her long legs. However, after class, the Post reported she would take part in gang brawls with guys and girls in the rival Manhattanville projects.
She was running with a crew and robbing people, says a community leader who knew her, reported the Post. She would hang with the girls and join the boys. It is hard to measure the extent and influence of girl gangs in the city. However, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Kevin O'Connor distributed a list of 45 street gangs running wild in north Manhattan. Ten of them were listed as all-female crews.
They can do what a lot boys and men do, said Burrell. It is not like they can't engage in criminal enterprises or social activities.
However, surprisingly, Gorot said that many gang-affiliated women are high achievers and perform well in school. He also said he believes that gang life could be a positive influence on females in urban societies.
When we think of kids in the inner city,we get blinders on. We tend to not grant them the same kind of license to make mistakes, which we grant to other teenagers, said Gorot. They find that they [gangs] are social movements and they provide a lot of street education. They provide something positive for young people to affiliate with.
However, in some gang-ridden neighborhoods, and for the victims--and the fallen members of such groups--this remains to be seen.
Especially for the family of Tayshana Murphy.