The diary of a street gang member who wants to get out of the game: This is the story of Général, a Blood (Rouge) who changed his life. Reflet de Société recounts what life is like in a gang through the story of Général.
Général was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, when the infamous dictator Mobutu Sese Seko was in power. He came to Québec with his parents when he was 2 years old. He may have missed out on civil war in his homeland, but he’d jump into war with both feet in his country of adoption. Through his experience, Reflet de Société presents a war waged on Québec soil, and its child soldiers.
Général is the 6th child of a family of 8. It’s a big, typically Congolese family, in which cousins are considered as brothers and sisters. When he was 5, his parents moved to the Saint-Michel district of Montréal North to be closer to the rest of the family. At his house, and at his uncles’ and his aunts’, things were always on the move, with a lot of coming and going.
This enlarged family met daily. Général was a child bathed in love. His parents, both university graduates, stressed success at school.
Général had no idea that a war was being planned between his new neighborhood and the neighborhood he had just left. He was too naïve to understand that his cousin, 9 years his senior, was a street gang member. Général saw him regularly associate with other gang members. Général loved his cousin like a big brother.
The cousin would do errands for an aunt, his mother, and other family members. Général never asked to accompany him.
We’re at the beginning of the 1990s, and Montréal’s street gangs were just being hatched. No one could guess what was on the horizon. Only those who were arming themselves knew what was in store. Nobody knew the significance of the Bloods (Rouges) or the Crips (Bleus).
A Traumatized Child
Général played and had fun like other children his age. That is, until he became, several years later, an indirect victim of the conflict.
One day, his cousin was driving his other young male cousins to his home, including Général. Another car stopped at an intersection. The car window was rolled down, and Général’s cousin was called. Then, the other car accelerated to pass, then angled itself to cut off the road. Three young men got out, came over, and started beating Général through his open car window.
“My cousin backed up,” Général recalls. “He hit the car behind him to get away. The police quickly intercepted us.”
The extended family soon arrived on the scene. They spent hours in the street with the police. “That ended up being a big deal within the family. We talked about it for a long time afterward because there were children aboard.”
Général was 9 years old at the time, and he came out of the incident traumatized. He had seen his beloved cousin brutally attacked, and had been powerless to do anything about it. Back home, there was anger and consternation. His parents, uncles, aunts and cousins were all blown away by what had happened. The children could have been collateral damage to the attack.
Général recalls: “It was the first time I’d ever heard of street gangs. I started getting interested, and started to understand.”
The child learned that the Blood, les Rouges, dominated Montreal North, and that they were at war with the Crips, the Bleus, of Saint-Michel. “I was in shock, seeing my cousin beat up,” Général says. “That shock led me to choose my clan. The Bleus beat him up, fuck les Bleus.”
The Child Soldier
Some decided to flee the war; others closed their eyes to it. A 9-year-old Général decided to voluntarily enlist. He proudly represented his clan by wearing a red bandana all the time, except in front of his parents. He formed a group with his cousins and his friends whose older brothers were gang members. At elementary school, they loved to pretend they were Rouges, making was against their older brothers’ enemies. The teachers didn’t pick up on the gang affiliations, which at that time were largely unknown to the general public.
Even their older Blood brothers were at first oblivious to what the youngsters were doing, wrapped up as they were in their own war and their own business. “My cousin didn’t pay attention to us. When he found out we were wearing the red bandana, he thought it was funny. He was proud to be in the gang, to represent. Sometimes he’d brag about us to his friends, and tell them that one day we’d take over for them.”
Général and his group of about 15 kids looked on with envy at the real members they’d frequently run into. “We’d go to a friend’s house and see their older brother with other members of his gang. They were our older brothers, our cousins.” Role models for children who wanted nothing more than to lead a life they found very exciting.
With these contacts with their older brothers, the kids started getting more serious about the gang life. They espoused the Bloods’ cause. They wanted to make war with the Bleus. At the end of primary school Général and his friends were no longer children. Their indoctrination was complete. They had been brainwashed into a soldier’s mentality.
Their passage into secondary school would put them on a whole different level.