Mel Steele of Boston made a twelve-year career out of working with communities to keep youth away from gangs. Growing up in the Mattapan neighborhood of Boston, Steele felt the temptation of joining gangs firsthand. Steele says that in his time growing up in Mattapan, there were gangs controlling nearly every street corner, recruiting young boys to participate in their illegal activities. For a young boy growing up in a working class neighborhood, the pull of gangs is strong. Gangs can become a second family to some kids, a sense of belonging that they don’t get at home or school. Many kids from single-parent households, such as Mel Steele of Boston, are easy recruiting targets for gangs because their parents can’t keep them away.
Mel Steele of Boston worked for the Youth Violence Strike Force as a police officer. This involved working in the inner city areas, each with its own unique relationship with the gangs in the area. Most community leaders want their streets cleaned up and the children living there not involved in gangs, so Steele worked within the community as much as he could to curb the recruitment numbers of the gangs and communicate with the community as a whole to learn how best to serve them. Instead of instituting punishments and handing down severe treatment to the underprivileged families living in gang territory, Steele instituted a cycle of change aimed at removing the gangs’ support structure by discouraging youth from joining them.
Working with people and not against them has always been a strong suit for Mel Steele. Boston is still home to a growing gang problem, but before he left the force, Steele brought an uncommon willingness to work for the interests of the communities he came in contact with as a part of the Youth Violence Strike Force. As part of a city-wide effort to curb gang violence, Steele employed his charisma and leadership to help combat gang violence not with more violence and ever harsher punishments, but with understanding and making alliances with the right parties within each community.
Mel Steele of Boston hopes that the example he established during his time as a police officer inspires other officers to work better with the communities they police, and he hopes that children growing up now see the danger in gangs and choose another path. The streets can swallow people up, Steele says, and it was all he could do keep as many children as possible from getting caught up in a life of crime.
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