Street Gangs in my Hometown: the Beginnings

Sometimes things just happen


Despite our best efforts, most of us have found ourselves in situations we did not want or intend to be involved in at one time or another. We interact with people we shouldn’t be socializing with, make incorrect decisions or simply find ourselves in the wrong place when something bad occurs. We often never intend to place ourselves in circumstances that could be harmful or dangerous, but it can happen anyway. When I was a teenager I thought I was spending lazy Saturday afternoons with an old friend, but just by knowing him I became involved in much more. By wandering the streets of my hometown with a buddy from grade school, I found myself in a situation that escalated into something perilous and unsafe. This story is only the beginning.




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The face of conflict

I never looked for violence
I never looked for violence
I feared my relationship with Paul would lead to trouble with the law, or worse
I feared my relationship with Paul would lead to trouble with the law, or worse
There was a gang in my hometown called Omega.  Gang members from a group in Texas called Alpha visited to stir up trouble
There was a gang in my hometown called Omega. Gang members from a group in Texas called Alpha visited to stir up trouble
The gangs in Lawrence were kids trying to act tough, but the weapons they sometimes carried were all too real
The gangs in Lawrence were kids trying to act tough, but the weapons they sometimes carried were all too real
There was even a gang known for their occult activites
There was even a gang known for their occult activites
I eventually became angry and filled with rage, but never chose a violent path for myself..despite my circumstances
I eventually became angry and filled with rage, but never chose a violent path for myself..despite my circumstances

The beginnings of the war


One warm Saturday afternoon in October of 1972, my friend Paul and I prowled the streets of downtown Lawrence. Paul was at a stage in his life when he didn’t want to meet me at his parents’ house very often, and if I did see him there we usually didn’t stay. This afternoon we met at the public library, but soon made our way toward the many retail stores that lined both sides of Massachusetts Street. As we walked south toward 9th Street, Jeff Tomar approached with several of his friends. I thought nothing of this since I knew Tomar from classes at school and considered him a friend, but I felt Paul tense beside me. He said nothing, but he was clearly nervous. Tomar’s friends maintained their distance as he approached us. Without acknowledging me, he stood in Paul’s path and punched him in the chest. The blow wasn’t meant to hurt him, but it wasn’t a soft punch, either. Tomar smiled and made eye contact with me for the first time as he motioned for his friends to come closer. He nodded toward Paul and proclaimed, “This is the guy we all want to kill. One hundred and fifty guys are all looking for him!” Jeff Tomar punched Paul in the chest a final time and led his friends away from us.

I was mystified and fairly alarmed, and Paul seemed relieved that what took place wasn’t worse than it was. He asked if I was okay and I told him I was fine, if a bit confused. I asked why that happened, but Paul shook his head and said he didn’t know. Despite my insistence that he had to know why someone attacked him and threatened to kill him, Paul offered nothing enlightening. I wasn’t sure how Tomar even knew Paul, but he smiled the entire time and I regarded the incident as posturing on his part. Perhaps it was a joke, albeit a cruel one. If over one hundred guys were looking for Paul, why didn’t they do more when they found him? I wondered if there was a connection between this incident and the stories of Lawrence street gangs Paul sometimes described. I didn’t think Jeff Tomar was in a gang, but conceded it wasn’t impossible. Other middle-class teenagers belonged to gangs—why not him?

Several weeks later I visited Paul at his house on Kennedy Drive. We walked through the surrounding neighborhoods as we chatted about school and girls. In one neighborhood, a situation similar to the one we endured on Massachusetts Street quickly unfolded. We were approached by five teenagers who clearly knew Paul. One of them was Doug Bachman, someone he told me about months earlier. I didn’t recognize the others.

Four teenagers surrounded Paul while the fifth pinned my arms. The huge Bachman punched Paul in the face and chest repeatedly with all his might as he warned him to stay out of their neighborhood. Paul endured the blows rather than involve me in a fight we had no chance to win. Bachman saw my long hair and suggested someone get a scissors to cut it off, but we were outside and it was clearly an idle threat. His massive fist pounded continually into Paul’s chest until he coughed. Bachman laughed at him, and they left when they felt they had made their point.

We sat on the sidewalk for a few moments and regained our composure. I felt humiliated that I was too small to help Paul but realized five against two weren’t very good odds, regardless of my size. For the second time in a month we were attacked while walking around town, and I asked Paul to tell me the truth about why this was happening. He clearly did something to make these guys angry, and I wanted to know what it was. It was crucial to recognize if I was placing myself in unsafe situations by wandering the neighborhoods with him.

Paul confided that one night a month earlier he snuck out the window of his house and prowled the neighborhood with Ted Mallory, a mutual friend from grade school. Ted enjoyed acts of vandalism such as keying cars or turning on garden hoses left outside and flooding lawns, and this was Ted’s motivation for roaming West Lawrence with Brad during the night. Paul never involved himself in the delinquent acts Ted favored, and mostly they talked and meandered aimlessly until they came upon Laura Holloway’s house and noticed one light was on. Laura was an attractive girl from school that Paul had an interest in. He approached the window and saw her sitting in her bedroom studying. He knocked on the window and Laura opened it. As Ted watched from a distance, Laura spoke with Paul for a few minutes. She wasn’t alarmed by his appearance at her house in the middle of the night and seemed friendly enough for Paul to be encouraged by the encounter. Several nights later, he once again slipped away in the darkness and roamed the streets with Ted. He returned to Laura’s house and again found her bedroom light on. For a second time, he tapped on the window and found her receptive to conversing with him. He stayed over an hour, and she even brought a glass of water for Paul to quench his thirst. Paul wondered if his odd encounters with this pretty girl could eventually lead to a romance.

Laura Holloway viewed these interludes differently. She told her friends at school that Paul tried twice to break into her room, and accused him of being at least a peeping tom, and likely far more than that. In an act of faux chivalry, the class jocks rose to her defense and vowed to teach Paul and Ted a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget. Paul assured me nothing dangerous occurred so far and believed their talk was simple posturing. I argued that the situation we just endured was quite real and feared it was only the beginning. He insisted there were no incidents other than the two I had witnessed and believed I was safe with him, but I wasn’t convinced. To convince me I was in no danger, he revealed that several of his friends believed Laura lied about him, or at least exaggerated her claims about Paul’s behavior. They had other friends that would help if there was any trouble. It sounded like a gang war was brewing, and he smiled and said that might be the case. When he saw my reaction he implored me not to worry—there wasn’t really a gang war. That didn’t allay my own fears, however. We were surrounded by a group of tough guys wanting to hurt Paul twice in the last month, and Jeff Tomar boasted of 150 people looking for him. Gang war or no, I didn’t like the odds.

Weeks later Paul told me of further trouble, and we speculated it was indeed the beginnings of a conflict. I had heard of local gangs with names such as Alpha, the Mothers of Destruction, the Northmen, the Riverkings, and the Rainbow Brothers, and it was not beyond Lawrence’s scope for restless teenagers to organize and cause trouble. Paul asked if I wanted him to teach me to fight, but I declined. He suggested I try not to be alone at school or around town if I could help it, and that I confine my activities to my own neighborhood. I asked why he thought that was necessary, and he conceded my friendship with him could bring trouble my way. He indicated that gangs were active in Lawrence, but most of them confined their activities to their own “turfs” or neighborhoods. He vowed to put bodyguards at my disposal to ensure I could move about freely at the first sign of trouble, but didn’t want to commit people to watching me if there was no need. I asked him to tell me truthfully if he had bodyguards available because he was in a gang, and he said he was. He needed this for his own safety. He was already influential and able to make some choices for the group, and subsequently felt capable of guaranteeing my safety. I wouldn’t feel safe again for a long time, however. Knowing Paul meant trouble.


Along for the ride


This was only the beginning of a situation that involved Paul and other friends for the next several years. Just by knowing him it involved me, as well. His connection with the gangs wasn’t a laughing matter and presented odd challenges that persisted and grew more perilous. Real and pretend gangs sprung into being to menace us and other Lawrence teens periodically. They were children mimicking older teens and pretending to be tough, but that made the situation no less dangerous. Midwest gangs in the early 1970’s were not the deadly crime organizations gangs would later become but the knives, box cutters, chains and occasion gun were all still real. Soon Paul would be fighting for his life and whether I wanted to or not, I was coming along for the ride……


A 2012 Update


This article was a remembrance of teenage life as it existed in a Midwestern city nearly forty years ago. It was only the beginning of the story and my involvement with Kansas gangs. This article focused on street gangs and violence, and how these gangs sometimes involved innocent kids in circumstances they didn't bargain for. It was a look at far simpler times. Street gangs in Kansas forty years ago were not the deadly threat that gangs in the 21st century are. Gang wars were fought late at night in parks and cemeteries by groups of teenagers battling as groups. The era of drive-by shootings had not yet been imagined. These kids were playing an entirely different game. It was still on occasion a deadly game, but violence and death weren't the primary tools for gangs imposing their wills upon each other. In those days if a gang member died, it was an accident. It was still a circumstance that shook everyone involved. It was not a rite of passage.

This realization does not diminish the threat of danger that existed. I have referred to the gang activities of that era as a game, but it was not. It was serious business and extremely dangerous. The societal problems that led kids to gang life was as real then as they are now. The psychology of gang life was largely the same. Frequently the end result of life among the gangs was the same, also. The primary difference was the specter of death that lurks in the shadows and streets of American cities now. Death was not witness to gang activities then--at least not to the same degree.

This article only tells part of a story and, in many ways, it cannot tell the entire tale. Why not, you ask? This story has no ending. Decades later, disconnected teenagers still roam the streets of our cities, threatening each other and the many innocent people they encounter. The problems still exist, and forty years have done little to provide answers. We can only hope answers can someday be found and that our children can grow up safely, without the threat of violence hovering over their heads--or the specter of death.



Comments 30 comments

Jeremey profile image

Jeremey 6 years ago from Arizona

Intresting story. I was never a gang member but like you had friends who were. Some never made it out, some went to prison. Some went on to a decent life. Bloods and Crypts were influential where I grew up, between Niagara Falls and Buffalo, NY. Now I live in AZ and I see activity all the time, mainly between the mexicans and blacks, but I keep my distance. Anyways this was good to read.


katiem2 profile image

katiem2 6 years ago from I'm outta here

Whew, Mike sounds like a lot of near misses, I would not have had the stomach. I must admit I'm hooked and very curuious to learn what takes place next hoping not a hair one on your head is harmed. Good grief could you not get out of the car, coming along for the ride I mean... Scary stuff and thrilling. Well done. Love, Peace and Joy, Katie


Inspired to write profile image

Inspired to write 6 years ago from Wales UK

Great story I enjoyed your read.

Here in the UK we have been a little lucky I suppose, gangs weren't formed as such only until a few years back & what I mean by this is gangs against gangs were not even considered as one usually got filled in by a group of teenagers whereas the bully would step up to the plate if you were unlucky to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, albeit, there were fights whereas no one would jump in & it was you & him & the job was done,

but now, as you know, unfortunately this is not the case of having a fist fight one on one because all kinds of weapons are plus loads of body's are involved & used.

Avoidance of trouble because of who you hang around with is always a bit if a gamble especially if you don't know your new mate that well & all we can hope is that our children are safe too as they grow.

Thank you for sharing your story. Regards Dale


coffeesnob 6 years ago

Mike,

It is a matter of fact that we become involved merely by association. Sometimes we are so taken off guard and discover half way through the journey that we are along for a ride we would not have chosen. I have never been on this kind of ride, but have found myself on journies that I wished to get out of and was left wondering how I even ended up there in the first place....I am guessing there is so much more to this journey of gangs. Will you be sharing more? God bless you in the journey you are on now

CS


schoolgirlforreal profile image

schoolgirlforreal 6 years ago from USA

That's really awful to hear, Mike. Such an awful thing really, being an innocent bystander. Awful. Recently my "friend" got ganged up on in jail and almost stabbed and he warned his family of them going to look for him at his family's home and may hurt family too. I don't think it's going to be a problem, but just shows you how these things get awful.

It's really a priviledge to hear your life story on this, as it really illustrates the true picture.

I actually have loved your recent hubs about your experiences with a cult, and others and this one. Those are the hubs, I really find interesting, Mike. I hope to read more on this in the future!

Thanks


attemptedhumour profile image

attemptedhumour 6 years ago from Australia

Hi Mike I grew up in a smallish town in England. I had a gang of mates but out of about fifteen only two were trouble makers regarding fighting. I did have a few fights when i was challenged by boneheads but i discovered that talk and action didn't belong in the same sentence. There were skinhead or bikie gangs around but we seemed to be able to avoid them. Your story was interesting, as true stories usually are and i can imagine how uncomfortable it must have been for you and your buddy, trying to navigate those hostile streets. Cheers mate at least you lived to tell the tale.


jasper420 6 years ago

very nicley put togeather great writting all in all this is a great hub love the story love the way its written you could not have done better


prasetio30 profile image

prasetio30 6 years ago from malang-indonesia

I just seen this on my television. It looks terrible if this happen in our community. From your hub tittle made me think, "what's wrong with them". I heard from many cases where a lot of people easily die from the war between streets gangs. I don't want this happen near me. I thought we liked to life in peace. Thanks for share this story, I read this again and again. Good job, my friend. Take care!

Blessing,


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Jeremy, thanks for reading. Luckily, gangs in my hometown back then were not the deadly force they are today. They were nothing to mess with, of course, but it was possible to survive. Keeping your distance from any gang activity is wise, and I applaud your judgment. Thanks again for reading.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Katie, thanks for your comments. I did survive, of course, but there were some interesting moments along the way, and I probably will relate some of them here in the future. It was an odd time, and I spent a lot of it living on adrenaline. I will say without reservation that I wouldn't really want to relive my teen years. It was tough enough to survive once.

Thanks again for your comments. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Inspired to Write (Dale), thanks for your comments. You're correct that a gang fight is rarely a fair fight, and that is in part what makes gang life so insidious--protection from gangs too often come from other gangs. It is worse now than when I was a teenager, and those days were frightening enough.

Thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it a great deal.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

CS, thanks for your always-thoughtful comments. This was certainly a ride I wasn't ready for, and while I managed to maintain a relatively low profile, there were still some interesting moments. Life is, of course, full of surprises and I would have passed on this one if the option was there.

I will likely share more of my experiences from these days in the future. Thanks so much for stopping by. I am always appreciative of your comments and insights. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Schoolgirl, thanks for reading. I have experienced a lot of weird events in my life, and the times when gangs ran around my hometown were not among the better moments. Given how much happened when I was young, my life seems positively tame now! Of course, the gang experiences were not something I sought or wanted any part of--I was an innocent bystander that got caught up in circumstances for no other reason than who my friends were. That turned out to be enough.

Thanks again for stopping by, I appreciate your comments a great deal. Take care.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Attemptedhumour, thanks for reading. I guess no matter where we live, there are going to be folks walking around acting tough. It is just a sign of the times, I guess. I thought I was good at avoiding trouble in those days, but it did manage to sneak up on me. As you say, I lived to tale the tale, and contemporary gangs would likely consider my story pretty tame. It wasn't for me, though.

Thanks again for your comments, I appreciate them a great deal.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Jasper, thanks for stopping by and reading. I appreciate your kind words, and your input. Thanks again.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Prasetio, thanks for your comments and insights. It is entirely appropriate to wonder why folks are so prone to violence--peace is the answer. The reasons kids and young adults turn to gangs and violence are many and complex, and it can be difficult to understand why some see gangs and violence as a solution--but some do. Like you I am a peaceful man, and I will always look for peaceful solutions to problems.

Thanks so much for your comments. Take care.

Mike


drbj profile image

drbj 6 years ago from south Florida

There will always be some youngsters testing their strength or power against others. It is a part of human nature. Learning how to defend yourself for both boys and girls should be a priority.

This is a well-written memoir, Mike, will follow it with interest. :)


Pollyannalana profile image

Pollyannalana 6 years ago from US

I really look to see it grow much worse and wide spread, no ones country is their own anymore, much less town. Government want us to give up arms when gangs can get machine guns. I just wanna go live in a cave somewhere I think.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Drbj, thanks for your comments. It is true--young people will always look to test their power against others, and it has always been that way. That is an aspect of sports as well, and perhaps part of its appeal. I was never a fighter, and my defense as a child usually was to make friends with bigger kids who would protect me. Sometimes that didn't work, as this story illustrated. Self-defense should indeed be a priority. Thanks for your insights. Hope you have a good weekend.

Mike


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hi, Polly. Thanks for your comments. Things really are worse than they used to be and headed in the wrong direction. As frightening as it was to live through what I experienced back then, it was kid's stuff compared to what gangs do now. There really is no comparison. The problem has always been bad, but now it's just insane. It's hard to know what the answers are, but we need to find some.......

Thanks for your comments, Polly. Take care.

Mike


Peggy W profile image

Peggy W 6 years ago from Houston, Texas

I was unaware of gangs when I was growing up, but then I was unaware of drugs in school (like marijuana) and my younger brother of 2 years told me many years ago that I was just naive which was undoubtedly the case. That being said, if it was anything like today...I would have known. It is actually scary! We hear stories of innocent people being singled out and even occasionally killed just as a gang initiation rite! The tagging everywhere is also evidence of gang activities...no longer just kid stuff. As you say...things are getting worse. What is the answer???


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Peggy, y'know--sometimes being naive in school is a good thing.....

Gangs were dangerous a long time ago, but I still believe they were not the menace they are today. Things are getting worse. I am hardly an expert on the subject, but I believe things worsened when the economy forced both parents to work in order to make ends meet. When there was a parent in the home and adults in the neighborhoods that knew and socialized with each other, things were better. Some might disagree because even in the 50's and 60's there were "biker gangs" and other misbehaving youths, but I feel this is the moment when things worsened. We do what we have to financially to stay afloat, and the recent economic crisis has only worsened the problem. Now parents are working more than ever, and kids are raised by strangers, the television and the computer. It is hardly surprising that kids look to each other for a sense of family and belonging, but I am not ready to blame the family entirely for the situation. Society has contributed.

What is the answer? I don't know, because it is impossible to take a step back and recreate the sense of family and social interaction we had 40 and 50 years ago. The family unit needs to be recreated, as does our sense of belonging in (and our commitment to) our neighborhoods. That is the beginning, but the task is a difficult one. Everyone needs to connect with each other, and especially with their kids.

Thanks for your comments.

Mike


saddlerider1 profile image

saddlerider1 6 years ago

My friend I won't say much as I know and have been around and involved with street gangs in my young tough rough neck days, however reading this paragraph in my opinion is what set it off.

"Laura Holloway viewed these interludes differently. She told her friends at school that Paul tried twice to break into her room, and accused him of being at least a peeping tom, and likely far more than that. In an act of faux chivalry, the class jocks rose to her defense and vowed to teach Paul and Ted a lesson they wouldn’t soon forget."

And sadly these are the types of things that are still happening in schools today. LIES and more LIES about students, fabrications that create BULLYING situations.

I had this problem last year with my 15 year old son, a girl attempting to bully my son and lying to her male friends about my son and putting himself into danger by her constant LYING to her friends.

I was able to quell it quickly and even had to take some matters into my own hands to scare these thugs away from my son. Things are fine now, but unless I had quickly stepped in, danger for my son was a certainty.

I hope things improved. A wagging tongue and lies have often killed innocent people and bystanders. Peace my friend.


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 6 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Saddlerider, thanks for your insights. Yes, the lies were a huge part of the situation, and once a lie is acted upon, it is virtually impossible to admit the untruths. This is the downside of social media, and I fear we have only seen the beginnings of the problems Facebook and Twitter will create. It is not FB and Twitter's fault, of course--they are simply tools--but now there are even more ways for lies to spread.

Thanks for your comments and insights, and I'm glad to hear the problems with your son could be cut off before they got any worse. Take care.

Mike


LillyGrillzit profile image

LillyGrillzit 5 years ago from The River Valley, Arkansas

The moment I began reading, you carried me to those sidewalks and streets. I couldn't stop checking to see if my old buds were there in spirit marking to see if we remember them...Thanks


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Lilly, thanks for stopping by. It was an interesting time, and there were some anxious moments that I will someday relate here. Thanks for reading.

Mike


kimberlyslyrics 5 years ago

HeY You just can't get enough of this Hub. Mostly because I relate in so many ways! But Mike, I tend to do that so often and don't tell you enough, and must remember to leave a comment, my gosh your support is unbelievable. I am writing this from stumbleupon, my fav site and have shared much of your work here about to post your profile

Really hope you had a Christmas made from lots of love

Kimberly


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Hi, Kim! It is always a joy to find a comment from you--thanks for stopping by. This was a particularly interesting period in my life--something new and weird was going on every day. I hope to write more about those times soon.

I am always appreciative of your support, and I am thankful for any efforts on your part (or anyone's) to help my humble work find a new reader or two. I thank you for sharing my work with others. Even more, I thank you for your continued support. I am so very appreciative.

My Christmas was good--I hope you had a nice day, also. Take care.

Mike


Ben Zoltak profile image

Ben Zoltak 5 years ago from Lake Mills, Jefferson County, Wisconsin USA

Interesting tale Mike, percieved or real, it sounds like at the very least, this was a case of bullying and mobs or cliques. I used to teach on the rough side of town in Milwaukee and taught a lot of kids in gangs, they were surprisingly captivated by The Outsiders movie. It's a sad mentality at any level, a sort of fraternizing for protection that enables violence and ignorance power. But on some level I suppose it offers friendship for people in similar situations.

You might find it funny that this story of yours took place when I was three months old, haha, if it's any consolation Mike, you write as someone who is young at heart. Which is all I can aspire too.

Happy New Years bud and to all your Kansas neighbors!

Ben


Mike Lickteig profile image

Mike Lickteig 5 years ago from Lawrence KS USA Author

Ben, thanks for stopping by. The psychology of gangs is indeed tragic and sad. The idea that a gang can represent safety and (even worse) family says a lot for what family life has become for so many young people. It is worse today--the times I described seemed dangerous then, but was nothing compared to the threat gangs pose these days.

Thanks for making me feel old, Ben!!!!!!

Just kidding, and I appreciate the young-at-heart comment. I try to stay connected to my youth, and I think young(er) people are able to relate to me. I don't try to act like I'm their age, but I can still connect. Thanks again, and I hope your holidays were wonderful.

Mike

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