by Maria Thomas & Elizabeth Griffiths, Asst. News Editor & Staff Writer
Labels are everywhere. Everyone has them. Sometimes we choose our own labels, and sometimes they are prescribed to us. Shanduke McPhatter is known as the founder of an inspirational organization devoted to reducing violence. He is also known as a former gangster.
Shanduke McPhatter has two labels that describe him: founder and executive director of the not-for-profit “Gangstas Making Astronomical Community Changes”, or G-MACC, and former gang member of the Bloods. It is clear, due to their contradictory nature, that McPhatter has not let his labels define him.
On Oct. 15, Shanduke Mcphatter spoke to Manhattan College students about his mission to reduce gang violence, and recalled his personal journey, starting from his convictions to becoming a peace advocate.
When McPhatter was first incarcerated at the age of 16, he suffered a great deal of abuse from his fellow inmates, which left him feeling isolated and hopeless. His life changed drastically when an older inmate introduced him to the meaning of the acronym “B.L.O.O.D.”, which, according to McPhatter, stands for “Brotherly Love Overrides Oppression and Destruction”.
“At sixteen I had nothing going on in my life, I had nothing to live for, nothing to die for, so it just made sense to me. I decided that was what I wanted to be.”
While McPhatter originally joined the Bloods gang in search of community, all the gang brought him was violence and additional jail time. McPhatter went on to serve 13 years in jail for a total of 18 different arrests. He was caught in a vicious cycle of violence, crime, and conviction.
“You become a product of your environment, I didn’t wake up one day wanting to be a gang member shooting people and selling drugs,” McPhatter said.
McPhatter had a moment of clarity when he saw a father and son reunite in prison. At the age of 17, the son had been sentenced to 35 years in prison.
“I saw the father and the son having a conversation, and I was the only person standing there, and that was the changing point of my life. Right at that point, I had twin boys who were five or six years old, and I said to myself, ‘do I want that to be me, seeing my sons walk up to me in the prison yard because they want to live the life that I lived? It’s time to make a change.’ That’s when I shifted,” McPhatter said.
In 2015, McPhatter opened up the first G-MACC office in East Flatbush, Brooklyn, an area known for high gun violence rates. Within three years, the G-MACC team had brought down violence in the community by an astonishing 67 percent.
“All the time that I was back and forth in prison, there were no services for me. They never gave me help, they just locked me up and sent me back out. I decided to be and create what was not there for me. That’s why I started my organization, G-MACC”
G-MACC provides priceless services to communities with high levels of gang activity. Part of their mission is to help at-risk youth stay in school, get mental health counseling, and find jobs. In addition to that, the organization attempts to reduce gang violence by mediating street activity.
“We have individuals who are violence interrupters. Their job is to mediate conflicts every day. Our team goes out in the street, we have team meetings about the neighborhood, beef, issues, who we gotta talk to,” said McPhatter.
According to McPhatter, ‘violence interrupters’ working for G-MACC have even established some credibility with law enforcement in their regular areas.
McPhatter said, “Police know not to even mess with us because they know what our job is. I actually know the police chief myself, he’d tell you my name and shake my hand.”
Although McPhatter’s reputation on the street has helped him with getting current gang members to listen to him, it was difficult for people to understand his mission in the beginning.
“When I first started, people didn’t understand what I was doing … now I’m talking about stopping violence versus being the one who was apart of it. That’s not necessarily accepted by everyone.”
Madeleine Novich, Ph.D., is a sociology professor at Manhattan College and teaches the course “Modern American Gangs”. She arranged for McPhatter to come speak at the college.
“I think it’s important to bring speakers like McPhatter to campus because it allows students a chance to form a holistic understanding of who gang members are. It can be hard to look past the label and, if they have one, the criminal record, to see that they are people with complex history,” said Novich.
Similarly, McPhatter addressed how one way to aid in reducing gang violence is by reducing the stigma associated with gang activity. One of McPhatter’s goals is to change the narrative that is currently being written.
“Just because a person may be a part of a gang, that is not what drives up the crime. It’s who they are, what they’re going through and what they have or don’t have that leads to the crime, and that’s what we need to focus on,” McPhatter said.
Niamh Fee, a Junior at the college who attended the event, said, “This is definitely the sort of issue that is talked about a lot in a negative way, with no solutions put forward. So it’s refreshing to hear a community is being acknowledged for its efforts to fix the issues, rather than be criticized for having the violent problems in the first place.”
Arianna Montefusco, a senior in Novich’s “Modern American Gangs” class, believes spreading awareness on McPhatter’s proactive work is one way to rewrite the narrative on gang affiliation.
“Taking Novich’s class definitely helped me have a better understanding of the points McPhatter was trying to get across. In class we learned that people who are in gangs are usually kids/people who are neglected by their parents/family and look for a place to belong. We also learned that most gang members live in poverty and become products of their environment … Most people who live in poverty use delinquency as a resource to prosper,” Montefusco said.