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Thread: So different from the gangs of old

  1. #1
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    Default So different from the gangs of old


    Nov 14, 2010

    [B][SIZE="5"]So different from the gangs of old[/SIZE][/B]

    [B]New gangs adopt the names of traditional ones but lack the rigid structure and strict discipline[/B]

    By Teh Joo Lin

    [SIZE="1"]In the past (above), gang fights were over revenue and turf. -- PHOTOS: ST FILE[/SIZE]

    When a gang of parang-wielding men attacked seven youths in Bukit Panjang on Monday, residents said they heard them shout 'Sah Lak Kau' (Hokkien for 369).

    If that were true, then they would have invoked the name of a secret society that had links to 18, a prominent gang in the 1950s.

    Those were tumultous days when the underworld wreaked havoc, engaging in protection rackets, extortion, gambling and armed robbery. Murder, kidnapping and turf wars were rife.

    Today's gangs are still the scourge of society, but they are nothing like their predecessors. Tough laws, large-scale sweeps and changing times have crippled the gangs of old.

    The new ones are mainly 'street corner' gangs, as the police describe them, who adopt the names of the traditional gangs for a veneer of recognition and credibility.

    'Unlike the traditional gangs which have an organised gang structure and members engaging in illegal economic activities, the street corner gangs are less structured, with fluid gang membership,' said the police in a statement on Friday.

    Retired detective Lim Ah Soon said: 'In Singapore now, some gangs go before Tua Pek Kong (a deity) and draw lots (to pick a new headman). So how can the gang be strong?'

    Mr Lim spent most of his 28 years in the force busting secret societies, whose origins can be traced to the Triad Society - set up to overthrow the Manchus and restore the Ming dynasty - in imperial China.

    In Dr Leon Comber's book The Triads, on Chinese secret societies in Malaya and Singapore in the 1950s, he wrote about how Chinese migrants from South China brought the Triad Society to the region in the 1800s.

    The secret societies possessed 'lofty ideals of providing a 'government within a government' to the early Chinese immigrants...then living under alien colonial rule'.

    But these ideals were never realised and they subsequently degenerated into crime.

    Gangs spawned and splintered, and borrowed the rituals and rules of the Triad Society.

    Initiation rites were complex and mystifying: youths drank their blood mixed with rice wine and blood from a rooster. Members took 36 oaths that included loyalty to the group and keeping its codes secret - on pain of death.

    By the 1960s, the number of secret societies had mushroomed to more than 40, with about 10,000 members.

    But their strength dwindled to about 2,000 by 2003, and many were not hardcore secret society members.

    Today, initiation rites, a key hallmark of the societies, have been abandoned. Fights break out over girls and staring instead of revenue and turf. About 10 main gangs were said to exist last year.

    The decline has been credited to tough government measures - especially the Criminal Law (Temporary Provisions) Act, which allowed gang leaders to be jailed without a court trial.

    Retired detective Lionel De Souza said: 'Because of the law, a lot of people dared to come forward to testify in secret. By the 1970s, the gangs were quite disorganised, but they were still creating trouble. By the 1980s, they were dying off already.'

    Mr David Thorairajan Manickam, 29, who became a secret society member in the late 1990s before he turned over a new leaf in prison, described how loyalty within the gangs had weakened.

    'The five times I was charged with fighting, it was all because of pao toh kia (Hokkien for snitches). All of them were my own friends from the same gang.'

    Retired police officers and former secret society members pointed out several differences that distinguish traditional secret societies from the gangs today.

    Leaders used to run organised hierarchies - the command chain allowing them to exert strict control and discipline over their underlings.

    A typical gang structure comprises the headman, fighters and members. But in the old days, there was also a network of ready sympathisers that the gangs could tap to tip members off. The web extended to those the gangs could count on to bail members out of prison and hire defence lawyers.

    Mr De Souza said: 'They were like companies. When you are in prison, your family will be taken care of.'

    But gangs suffer from a lack of 'central control' these days, Mr Lim said, with weak leadership, given that many elders prefer to stay out of trouble than risk another lengthy prison stay.

    A former headman who joined a gang in 1992 recounted how a fellow headman refused to send help to his followers embroiled in a fight.

    The 32-year-old said: 'My member called to ask for help but he was in the bar drinking and said he wasn't free.'

    He added: 'Have you heard of the same group clashing with the same group? Now it's a normal thing. So do you think the head has power? No.'

    Mr Lim said: 'The discipline is no longer there. The masters are unable to control their people. Now, if a group sees that they outnumber another group, they will just whack first.'

    The ex-headman added: 'In my time, when the head of the company comes down to a banquet, we don't even dare to breathe hard. Now, they are just talking, SMS-ing, talking on the phone.'

    The poorer stock endemic in gangs today has been blamed on lax recruitment.

    In the past, secret societies typically drew members only from the same clan or kampung. Not only did this mean they could communicate better, but there were also higher levels of trust, kinship and loyalty.

    After an elaborate initiation ceremony, there was no question of quitting the gang or switching loyalties.

    But police raids and urbanisation, which made it harder to hold the ceremonies in secret, meant they became less frequent and reduced in scale. In the early 1990s, secret societies had to hold ceremonies in plantations and jungles in Malaysia. They have since petered out.

    The ex-headman said: 'By the late 1990s, a lot of the rules, a lot of the rituals have all been forgotten.'

    Traditionally Chinese gangs also began recruiting Malays, Indians and Eurasians, said the police. Members joined and left without fear of reprisal.

    A former member, 27, said she only had to meet a senior member to join a gang in Bukit Purmei in the late 1990s. Then 11, she had became acquainted with members of the gang at a void deck.

    She said: 'We just sat there and got to know each other. After that, he asked if we wanted to 'play together'.'

    Getting out was as easy. When her family member threatened her headman with the police, he summoned her and told her: 'Next time, don't come so often to Bukit Purmei.'

    'I looked down on him,' she said.

    The former headman reckons the absence of a proper ritual has eroded membership ties, resulting in the disunity that has made it easy for the police to break up the gangs.

    He said: 'If you have not been through a ritual, you don't have a real fear of what the punishment could be. The moment the police threaten you, you will blurt out everything.'

    Another big difference with the past is that secret societies used to thrive on big revenue streams from illegal businesses, which they were eager to protect.

    So they typically fought only over turf encroachment or the sale of black market movie tickets.

    Gang wars were not supposed to break out at the slightest provocation - such as staring incidents.

    Instead, should a conflict break out between two members of different 'shirts' (gangs), there were protocols to follow.

    Mr De Souza said: 'The fighter would tell the boss, who would assess the situation and decide if there's a reason for all this trouble.'

    Senior members of the two gangs might meet at a coffee shop to iron out the issues.

    He said: 'Usually, they talked to reason things out. They didn't simply fight unless it could not be settled.'

    Even when hostilities were declared, there could be a 'curfew' imposed - where one gang was allotted a limited time to leave the other's turf before fights began.

    The police said gang members today, who operate without any 'specific aims', sport for senseless violence 'over trivial matters or traditional rivalries which they do not understand much about'.

    Mr Manickam recalled being summoned to a coffee shop just to 'sit down'. He said: 'We didn't even know what the problem was, and with which gang. Sometimes, we didn't even know there was a settlement talk.'

    And while members treated gangsterism as a livelihood in the past, accounts today point to members milking their families for funds. Old revenue sources have dried up.

    Mr Lim said: 'Last time, there were perks. If you control a territory, people can pay protection money. You can thrive.'

    Despite the differences, today's street corner gangs still occasionally engage in violence, sometimes with parangs and choppers.

    Over the years, the police said preventive efforts have led to a general decrease in youth crime.

    Mr Lim said today's youth are joining gangs for reasons such as peer acceptance and the absence of parental control. This means the police cannot work alone to solve the issue.

    But as the ex-headman put it: 'If you are joining a gang just because you need friends, forget it. If you are joining just for the fame, just so people will look up to you and it's easier for you to hook up with chicks, I would say forget it.

    'It's not a play thing.'

    [email][email protected][/email]

    Additional reporting by Mavis Toh

  2. #2

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    is this property news??

  3. #3

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    Default same issues

    Quote Originally Posted by Regulators
    is this property news??
    invoking of names (of condos in which region) to attain credibility and recognition

    fighting over corner (units)

    staring at rivals (over enbloc issues)

    switching loyalties (when voting)

    yup, sounds like property news all right

  4. #4
    I sell Cheese Pie

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  5. #5

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    Quote Originally Posted by Regulators
    is this property news??
    u another kuku bird... this one is kopi shop talk cock sing song lar

  6. #6

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    u r right in a sense as i do have a dick aka kuku bird. however, u r a hole where only shit comes out, not songs...

    Quote Originally Posted by Lord Anus
    u another kuku bird... this one is kopi shop talk cock sing song lar

  7. #7
    I sell Cheese Pie

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    Such touching terms of endearment

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