Goldberg, J. (1995, July). My life as a Chinese gangster. New York, 28, pp. 34-39.
Robert McKinney, a graduate of Stuyvesant High School class of 1986, son of an immigrant family from the Dominican Republic, developed an interest in kung fu and Chinese culture during his high school years that later led him down the road to life in a Chinese gang.
For McKinney, the immediate attraction of Chinese gangster life was the sense of family and the Chinese culture itself. In gang life he found loyalty, unity, and care just as in a family. He also admired and was enamored by the intense drive and ambition of his Chinese friends. These, along with his fervent interest in kung fu, led McKinney to a martial arts studio in Chinatown where he naturally met up with gangsters.
Then, the introductions began, and quickly, McKinney was in—he made it to Chinatown. Once in, McKinney was further enticed by the power trip of gangster glory, by his association with his dai-lo (big brother or leader)—one of the most vicious gangsters in Chinatown—and, as well, by the money and girls.
By 1989, Robert’s new vision of kung fu gangster glory had supplanted his old dream of medical school, and he dropped out of college. ‘Basically,’ he says, ‘making money was the thing.’
But then the glory days turned into a nightmare for McKinney. A barrage of violence in McKinney’s life began. A close friend was gunned down, followed by a gang killing of three rival members in a parking lot across the street from his usual hangout. The final blow came when his dai-lo ordered a hit on one of McKinney’s friends. The dai-lo forced him to participate in the beating, torturing, and dumping of the body, an experience that left McKinney scared and ready to leave.
McKinney fled upstate with his girlfriend, Judy, and found a legitimate financial investment job. But then the police caught up with him and, in the spring of 1995, he faced attempted murder conspiracy and drug charges, to which he pleaded guilty.
He decided to tell his story in the hope that police and prosecutors would see two things—that he was a reluctant criminal and that he had, with Judy’s help, righted himself without benefit of jail time.
In McKinney’s own words, "I had done what the judicial system is supposed to do for you. I rehabilitated myself. I was clear of the gangster life. I was going to get a promotion at work."
QUESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
- Do youth join gangs or are they recruited into gangs?
- Why do you think the attractions of gang life are so enticing to young people?
- What are some alternatives to gang life that we can offer youth today?
- Why do some gangsters rehabilitate while others do not?
- Potential gang members are in our schools and neighborhoods. They frequent our stores, our restaurants, and our places of recreation (arcade, bowling alleys, parks, etc.). We should be sensitive to who these at-risk youth are and not ignore their existence.
- Significant players in the recruitment of Chinese gang members are the martial arts studios in U.S. Chinatowns. We must offer our young people martial arts in a different setting or through other types of physical acheivement, such as sports or outdoor activities.
- Youth are seeking their identity, a sense of belonging, achievement, and excitement. Parents, teachers, youth workers, and all adults need to provide positive and constructive ways for youth to develop in these areas.
Hannah Goon cCYS