Samoan Gangs & a Ripple of Change

February 20, 2023

Peter Santenello Samoan Gangs

Samoan gangs may not be as well known worldwide as some, but they are a powerful force in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, modern culture glamorizes gangsters, but thankfully, a group of ex-gang members is standing up against the lies. 

The F.O.U. Movement (Fa’atasiga o Uso’s ) is helping young Samoans avoid the pitfalls of joining gangs. A band of brothers is taking to the streets to help undo the damage they caused. Looking to faith for guidance and purpose, these ex-gang members are building strong communities for their children and grandchildren.

I received a call from Upu,  a FOU member who spent 24 years in prison for committing second-degree murder while he was part of a gang.  He told me he had a lot to share, and I thought we could learn something together, so I went to the Compton projects to see what he had to say. 

Let’s jump in!

Samoan Gangs: A History of Violence in LA 

Gang presence affects the lives of countless young people. From the 1970s to the 1990s, there was an alarming acceptance of this lifestyle among Samoan youth. Thankfully, recent developments decreased gang activity. However, much work still needs to be done to ensure future generations don’t succumb to gangs.

Members of the FOU Movement come together with one shared goal: preventing young people from participating in gangs, which are all too often romanticized by rap videos that come WITHOUT the history of pain.

It’s essential to understand the root cause of Samoan gangs. While some experts suggest that the increase in gang membership is linked to poverty, a lack of access to resources, and the pursuit of power…others point to the absence of positive Samoan role models and a culture of violence.

This story is important because it addresses the elders’ role in leading their youth away from Samoan Gangs and back into supportive communities. 

FOU MOVEMENT: The Members Want to Create Change

Ultimately the goal is to prevent new generations from making the same mistakes.  I met with Bell, Dilly, Upu, and Peter, ex-gang members and FOU founders, who want to share their stories to ensure others don’t follow them down this path.

One of the most vital messages they convey is it’s not all fun and games like they portray in movies. There is a lot of pain involved in this lifestyle.

Sadly, the Samoan gang presence is still significant in Park Village, where I met these guys.  Over 50% of Samoan kids who grow up there are expected to join – which is disturbing. 

Samoan Gangs: Turning Pain Into Promise

The FOU founders are taking past experiences and turning them into something good. They want nothing more than to stop another mother from losing her child. This is a cause worth fighting for. 

Rectifying things we’ve done wrong is never easy, but these guys want to take that challenge head-on. 

The FOU Movement is predominantly made up of guys in their fifties and forties. That said, they’re reaching out to twenty-year-olds to show them there’s another way besides a life of crime.

Not everyone appreciates their involvement, but they feel it’s a calling bigger than the opinions of naysayers. 

Samoan Gangs FOU Movement

Upu’s Story 

To understand the FOU Movement, you need to know where their drive comes from. While this may be hard to read, Upu, one of the founders, beat a man to death 30 years ago and served a 24-year prison sentence.

His parents taught him that murder was wrong, but his involvement in a gang pushed him to make terrible decisions one fateful night. To this day, Upu feels tremendous guilt over the life he took, and he doesn’t want others to follow in his footsteps. 

Remorse is nothing without action, and Upu wants to walk the talk. 

While there is no excuse for committing murder, coming from a broken home, relationship, and neighborhood can severely impact a person. Upu feels many kids are carrying a heavy burden of pain and the potential for violence.

That terrible night he lost control over his emotions during a fight and, in one moment, changed his life forever and ended Robert Virgil’s life. 

The FOU movement, for him, is all about healing.

“The FOU Movement advocates with FAITH to help REINTEGRATE each former prisoner into the community.”

Change Happens At Home 

While Upu’s story may sound extreme, there are a lot of kids out there in gangs tonight facing the same choices. The FOU movement is one giant step toward helping young people likely to fall into gangs find an alternative path.  Community is vital. If young people feel supported, they may not have to pay the same price Upu did.

Kids who might fall prey to Samoan Gangs (or any gang for that matter) may be marginalized socially or economically. Gangs give them a feeling of belonging and a way to generate cash. 

Members of the FOU Movement hope to show kids that this is not the only way forward. There are options.

By providing these resources and creating an environment that fosters a sense of community, they hope to reduce the risk of gang involvement for Samoan youth, 

Hey, who knows? Maybe they will even eliminate Samoan gangs in LA  altogetherone day! 

Click here to find out more about the FOU Movement. 


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