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Gang Violence in Romeo and Juliet, a Play by William Shakespeare

Gangs are socially destructive and detrimental to society for several reasons. Very often they will seek to control their group and the surrounding community through fear and violent crime. Rivalries and territory wars with other gangs bring violence to neighborhoods and endanger the lives of law-abiding citizens. As the situations escalate, violence increases from one-on-one attacks to more extreme assaults like drive by shootings, which more often than not also kill the innocent people around the intended victim. In retaliation the associates of the victim will go out and kill the individuals responsible for the attack. This can go back and forth for as long as the respective gangs have members, since neither side will put a stop to it. The police can do little to stop them because it’s very easy to hide from a shorthanded police force. Even on the occasions when gang members are arrested, they’re rarely in prison long enough due to overcrowding and other problems common to the criminal justice system.

William Shakespeare’s classic tragedy Romeo and Juliet is rife with examples of gang violence and its horrible consequences. Even back when the play was written gangs roamed the streets and families feuded over long forgotten slights. Since gangs and feuding persons are rarely forgetful, forgiving, or tolerant of each other, it is not uncommon for them to provoke the other side when they encounter each other on neutral territory. This is illustrated very well by Shakespeare when Sampson, who is of the house of Capulet, attempts to provoke Abram of the house of Montague, by making a rude hand gesture, i.e. biting his thumb.

Although Sampson later denies biting his thumb directly at the Montague men, the thought is to aggravate them into violence. The situation of course escalates later when the hot-headed Tybalt enters and rebukes Benvolio’s attempt at peace keeping. The fighting only stops when the prince of Verona, Escalus, orders them to cease fighting and declares that anyone caught feuding, fighting on the streets, or otherwise disturbing the peace of the city would be immediately put to death.

His harsh resolution does little to prevent the Capulet and the Montague families from continuing the feud. Tybalt later kills Mercutio and Romeo responds by promptly avenging his friend’s death and slays Tybalt. This obviously angers the Capulets and they seek to have an assassin poison Romeo after his banishment from Verona. This demonstrates how the vicious circle of revenge can keep a feud or war going for generations. Gangs in modern and olden times share many other similarities with each other. Both enjoy killing and reeking havoc on their counterparts and they are often driven by hatred and greed. They are almost never willing to find common ground and let bygones be bygones. They let their negative feelings toward each other and bad situations fuel pointless bloody battles in which there are no victors. Uncompromising and ruthless they do whatever it takes to bring about a result that pleases them, such as exterminating enemies and rivals. Other parallels include their general disregard for the basic laws and rules of society. They both go about playing out their vendettas, not caring who else they hurt, whether be an innocent bystander, or even police. Tradition also plays a large roll in the motivation of ancient and contemporary gangs. The Montagues and Capulets both hate the other family long after neither side could remember why they were feuding in the first place. This is also true of modern gangs, who make sure that newer members know who all of their enemies are, regardless of who started it or how long it had been since they last clashed.

Despite the many negative aspects of gang life, there are several positive things about it. After joining a gang you will learn valuable money handling skills when making drug buys or committing robberies. You can lose that ugly, flabby gut and strengthen your leg muscles and lungs while outrunning law enforcement officers. And why have an expensive house with a big mortgage when you could have your own, totally free, abandoned building? You and your fellow gang members can experience total freedom from the smothering restraints of society felt by other people. Yes, with none of that pesky “right and wrong” stuff to hinder your fun, feel free to beat up that guy who gave you a dirty look, no one will stop you. What more could you want from life? Money, drugs, and no one to stop you but rival gang members. Even if someone kills you, you’ll probably become the catalyst for a new phase of the war, so you’ll be famous among your peers. There’s a bright side to any situation, isn’t there?

Despite these arguments to the contrary, gangs are for the most part negative influences on society. With crime dominating the bulk of their lives, they rarely consider living like regular people. They continue to put fuel on the proverbial fire and allow their bad situations to escalate into bloody private wars. Thinking themselves exempt from society’s laws, they bring violence and bloodshed to the streets and fear to the lives of the general public. They flood the streets with drugs and crime and the police are virtually helpless to stop them. Our society cannot function much longer if the good, responsible people of the world don’t take a stand against this constant threat and put an end to it, once and for all.

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