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CNN Classroom Edition: Homicide in Hollenbeck

  • Story Highlights
  • Identify why and how kids get into gangs
  • Examine the gang culture and how gangs operate financially and structurally
  • Learn about the history and impact of gangs in the United States
  • Evaluate different strategies being used to address gang-related problems
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(CNN Student News) -- Record the CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Homicide in Hollenbeck when it airs commercial-free on Monday, December 29, 2008 from 4:00-- 5:00 a.m. ET on CNN. (A short feature begins at 4:00 a.m. and precedes the program.)

Program Overview

Teachers: Please preview this program, as it contains language and images that may not be appropriate for all students.

CNN's Anderson Cooper goes inside 15 square miles of Los Angeles terrorized by 34 different gangs, where death is a constant menace and gangsters rule the streets. Police daily face a losing battle, parents dread the violence that threatens their children, and young kids routinely fall prey to the glamour of gang life. Gangs are spreading across America, and nationally gang homicides are climbing. Nowhere is it worse than in Hollenbeck, a community where a home-grown brand of terrorism is a daily fact of life.

Grade Levels: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Social Studies, Sociology, Health, Current Events

Objectives: The CNN Special Investigations Unit Classroom Edition: Homicide in Hollenbeck and its corresponding discussion questions and activities challenge students to:

  1. Define the term "gang";
  2. Identify why and how kids get into gangs;
  3. Examine the gang culture and how gangs operate financially and structurally;
  4. Learn about the history and impact of gangs in the United States;
  5. Examine gang migration trends;
  6. Evaluate the effectiveness of different programs and strategies being used to address gang-related problems.

Curriculum Connections

Social Studies

Standard III: People, Places and Environments: Students will make informed and critical decisions about the relationship between human beings and their environment.

Standard IV: Individual Development and Identity: Students will explore the influences on individual development and identity including culture, groups and institutions.

Standard IV: Power, Authority and Governance: Students will understand the historical development of structures of power, authority and governance and their evolving functions in contemporary U.S. society as well as other parts of the world.

Standard V. Civic Ideals and Practices: Students will examine the ideals, principles and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

The Curriculum Standards for Social Studies ( are published by the National Council for Social Studies (


Standard 5. Knows essential concepts and practices concerning injury prevention and safety

Level III [Grade: 6-8]

Benchmark 3. Knows potential signs of self- and other-directed violence

Standard 9. Understands aspects of substance use and abuse

Level III [Grade: 6-8]

Benchmark 3. Knows the short- and long-term consequences of the use of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs (e.g., physical consequences such as shortness of breath, cirrhosis, lung cancer, emphysema; psychological consequences such as low self-esteem, paranoia, depression, apathy; social consequences such as crime, domestic violence, loss of friends)

Level IV [Grade: 9-12]

Benchmark 2. Knows how the abuse of alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs often plays a role in dangerous behavior and can have adverse consequences on the community (e.g., house fires, motor vehicle crashes, domestic violence, date rape, transmission of diseases through needle sharing or sexual activity)

McREL: Science Standards and Benchmarks Content Knowledge: A Compendium of Standards and Benchmarks for K-12 Education (Copyright 2000 McREL) is published online by Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning (McREL ) (, 2550 S. Parker Road, Suite 500, Aurora, CO 80014; Telephone: 303/337-0990.

Discussion Questions

1. Where in California is the community of Hollenbeck located? According to the program, what is a "street gang"? How many street gangs are there in Hollenbeck? In total, how many people are members and associates of these gangs? Why is Hollenbeck considered a fertile ground for gangs? What are some of the different reasons that some people want to join gangs?

2. What types of crimes do the gangs in Hollenbeck commit? How have gangs impacted this community? Why do you think local police officers refer to the gangs as "domestic terrorists"? How many violent gang-related crimes were reported in Hollenbeck in 2003? How did the overall number of gang-related crimes change in 2004? What type of gang-related crime in Hollenbeck increased in 2004?

3. According to the program, why aren't police officers able to solve many of the gang-related crimes in Hollenbeck? What step did the city take to address this problem? Why do you think this measure didn't work? Can you think of other ways to address this problem? Explain.

4. Who is Soledad Brock? How did gang activity impact Soledad and her family? Why has Soledad decided to stay in Hollenbeck? Does Soledad's decision surprise you? Why or why not?

5. With what gang is Kiki affiliated? How big is this gang? For how long has it existed? Why did Kiki join this gang? What factors make it easy for gangs to recruit members in Hollenbeck? According to Kiki, what are the gang's morality code and rules of engagement? Why has Kiki decided to stay in the gang, despite the fact that most of his friends are in prison or dead? Why do you think that Kiki feels that the best route for hardcore gang members who leave their gang is to join the Marines? Do you think that gang members with criminal records should be allowed to join the Marines? Why or why not?

6. Why do gangs want territory? How do gangs make money? In the program, Kiki asserts that "money brings power and respect." Do you agree with his statement? Why or why not? Why do you think power and respect are so important to Kiki and other gang members? Can you think of different ways that people can attain respect and power without joining a gang?

7. How does this program depict the gangster lifestyle? How does this lifestyle compare to yours? Does the gangster lifestyle appeal to you? Why or why not?

8. What do Jake Drugger and Arron Skiver do for work? Why do you think they do this type of work? In the program, we hear that these men compare their work to "playing cat and mouse while working a jigsaw puzzle." What do you think they mean? According to the program, what are some of the signs of possible gang involvement? Why is the relationship between the Hollenbeck police and the public sometimes strained? Can you think of ways to resolve this tension? Explain.

9. Who is Father Greg? What is the name of his ministry? Why does he believe in giving gang members a second chance in life? What approach does he use to help gang members break away from gang life? How do many Hollenbeck police officers feel about Father Greg's ministry? Why do you think that it is so hard for many gang members to break away from their gangs? What is redemption? What are Father Greg's views on redemption? Do you share these views? Why or why not? What is your opinion of Father Greg's ministry?

10. How old is Benny? When did Benny start getting involved in gang-related activities? How are Benny's actions affecting his mother? Why is gang graffiti dangerous? What are "taggers," and how do they differ from gangs? According to the program, why do some young people, like Benny, join gangs? Based on the information in this program, what do you think the future holds for Benny? Do you think he'll join a gang? Why or why not?

11. What factors enable gangs to sustain themselves? Why is it so difficult for the Los Angeles police to suppress gang activity? Do you think it's possible to get rid of gangs in Los Angeles? State your rationale.

Suggested Activities

What is a Gang?

Inform students that there is not an accepted standard definition of a gang among criminal justice practitioners, gang researchers, social workers and anyone who works with juveniles and young adults. This lack of consensus on a standard definition has important implications for understanding and addressing the gang phenomenon. Challenge student groups to comb library and online resources to learn how different people have defined the term "gang" since the early 1900s.

Direct groups to write down their definitions on large pieces of paper. For each definition, have students note the author, his or her profession, for what purpose the definition was created and the year it was written. After students share their research with the class, have them examine the extent to which the definition of gang has changed over the years and the factors that may have contributed to these disparate definitions. Ask students: How is not having a standard definition of gang problematic for gang researchers, law enforcement officers, mental health practitioners and lawmakers?

Wrap up the activity by challenging groups of students to come up with a universal definition for the term gang. Instruct each group to present its definition to the class and have the class analyze the strengths and weaknesses of each definition.

Gang Growth and Migration

Point out to students that, though gang activity has been present in the U.S. since its inception, according to the National Alliance of Gang Investigators Associations, "Over the past 20 years, the gang problem has grown exponentially. Today, communities across the country face a gang population that has crossed all socioeconomic, ethnic, and racial boundaries and now permeates American society."

Next, refer students to online resources to learn about the history and impact of gangs and gang migration in the United States. Pose the following questions to guide students' research:

  1. How are today's gangs different from gangs in the past?
  2. What factors contributed to the proliferation of gang activity during different periods of the 20th century?
  3. To what extent have the drug market, the media and racial and socioeconomic issues contributed to the current rise of gang activity in different parts of the U.S.?
  4. Why do gangs that originate in specific regions appear in other parts of the U.S. over time?

After students complete their research, have them create a timeline of key sociological and political events that took place in the U.S. during the 20th century. As a class, have students identify whether or not there are correlations between the key events and the emergence of gang activity.

Dealing with Gangs

Invite your school principal and local and state law enforcement officers to your class to talk about the status and impact of gang activity in your school, state and local community. Following the discussion, have students conduct research to learn how different local groups and organizations are dealing with gang-related problems. These groups may include:

  1. School personnel and school resource officers;
  2. Community-based organizations, such as local Boys & Girls Clubs;
  3. Youth-development professionals;
  4. Law enforcement;
  5. Court, probation, and corrections professionals;
  6. Gang researchers;
  7. Governmental agencies;
  8. Elected officials;
  9. Young people in positions of leadership and intervention roles.

After they share their findings in class discussion, have your students work with the PTA at your school to organize a symposium on gang activity for your community. Students would identify the topics for the symposium and invite representatives from local government, the police department and different community organizations to address these topics. Topics for the symposium might include:

  1. the status and impact of local gangs;
  2. the warning signs of gang involvement;
  3. the programs and strategies that are being used to prevent and stop gang-related problems;
  4. what citizens can do to combat gang-related violence in their schools and community.


Los Angeles, California, Hollenbeck, street gangs, turf, police, violence, fear, power, respect, graffiti, homeboys, homicides, bystander, illegal drugs, witness, intimidation, communities, prevention, domestic terrorism, depression, gang initiation, gangster, intervention worker, prevention, recruit, morality, snitching, Cal-Gangs, tattoos, Homeboy Industries, law enforcement, mental health, redemption, tagging

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