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What parents should know about gangs

By By DONNIE NUNLEY
APD Asst. Police Chief
The headlines of the morning paper read, "Five-year-old killed in gang drive-by shooting." We shake our heads and wonder, "How can this senseless death happen in the Unite States? Who are these gang members, and why are they killing each other and innocent people.
Many parents live in constant fear that their child will become involved in a neighborhood street gang. Some fear that their children may already be involved. Many of these parents live in neighborhoods where gangs have existed for many years, and have witnessed the pain and suffering the gangs caused. They may have been involved in a gang themselves. For other parents, gang involvement by a child is a new worry prompted by media reports of gang violence in their neighborhoods and by seeing graffiti spray painted on neighborhood fences and walls.
Although gangs have existed predominantly in large cities, they are now evident in most cities and towns in the United States. As a competition for drug sales turf has increased in large cities, gang members who sell drugs have moved to smaller towns where they can charge more for the drugs and where law enforcement is not as sophisticated in dealing with drug trafficking.
Gangs are groups of people who form an allegiance for a common purpose and commit violent, unlawful or criminal activities. Today's street gangs may claim control over a certain territory in their community, and create an atmosphere of fear and intimidation there. Gangs are often involved with narcotics, which bring them a profit.
Youth gangs collectively consist primarily of adolescents and young adults who interact frequently with one another; are frequently and deliberately involved in illegal activities; share a common collective identity that is usually, but not always, expressed through a gang name; and typically express that identity by adopting certain symbols and/or claiming control over "turf" (persons, places, things, and/or economic markets).
For a group to be considered a gang, it must meet the following criteria:
– The group must have a name or identifiable leader.
– The members must claim a territory, turf, neighborhood, or criminal enterprise.
– The members must associate on a regular basis.
– The members must engage in delinquent or criminal behavior.
For a adolescent to be considered a gang member, he or she must meet at least one of the following criteria:
– Admit being a leader.
– Possess tattoos, clothing, or other paraphernalia known to be primarily associated with a specific gang.
– Be observed participating in criminal activity.
– Have police records on being observed associating with known gang members.
Signs of possible gang involvement
– Sudden poor grades and disinterested in school.
– Withdrawn from family activities.
– Use of known vocabulary (gang have many slang words).
– Sudden change in friends.
– Evidence of drug abuse.
– Use of hand signs.
– Sudden affluence.
– Desire for excessive privacy.
– Having a new nickname.
– Developing a bad attitude towards family, school and authorities.
– Purchase or desire to buy clothing of all one color or style.
– Wearing altered headwear (gang members often put gang information on the inside band of ball caps).
– Changing appearance with special haircuts, eyebrow markings or tattoos.
– Use of gang graffiti on folders, desks, walls, and buildings.
– Staying out later than usual.
Kids join gangs for many reasons, and each case is individual. However, reasons include: excitement and fun, a sense of belonging, companionship, peer pressure, attention or status, financial gain, intimidation, protection, and a failure to realize what being in a gang means. Living in a gang-infested area or having a family member in a gang increases the possibility of a kid joining one.
Some of the risk factors are: a) lack of adequate community youth support systems and too much unsupervised time, b) poverty, c) lack of self-worth, d) poor decision-making and communication skills, e) domestic violence at home, f) media that glorifies violence, g) parent denial of gang problem.
Gangs members often have guns and drugs, exposing kids to the dangers of both. Members can be seriously hurt, or killed during gang fights or criminal acts. Gangs membership can hamper education, since schools are viewed negatively by gangs. Extensive police records limit future employment opportunities. Families of gang members also face danger for their own safety from feuding gang members.
Stay informed, involved, and aware. Help your children choose to refuse gang membership by becoming more involved in their lives, by building their self-esteem at home, and by working to combat the gang problem in your community. You will be surprised how close the gang problem is to you and how easy it is to recruit a child.
The next time you see a freight train passing through, take a moment and observed the gang signs on the box cars.