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Community involvement needed to battle gangs
stan york
Stan York - photo by Herald File
Editor's Note: This is the second in a two part series dealing with gangs in Statesboro.

    People may scoff at the idea that there are "real" gangs in Statesboro, but gang expert Dr. Sharon Tracy, Georgia Southern University professor, said it's true.
    And those kids people say are just "wannabe" gangsters are as dangerous as the "real" thing, she said. "A wannabe is a gonna-be."
    Tracy and several local law enforcement representatives spoke Tuesday at a community forum about the reality that there is gang activity in Statesboro and elsewhere in the county.
    Statesboro Police Chief Stan York suggested the community hold additional forums regarding the issue, but no date has yet been set for a second meeting.
    About 60 people attended Tuesday's gathering and listened intently while Tracy, York and others talked about the presence of gangs in the area. Statesboro Police Det. Sgt. James Winskey rattled off several names of local gangs, and Tracy said some gangs could have actual connections with the nationally recognized gangs such as the Crips and the Bloods.
    That's not to mean citizens need to get spooked, but members of the community do need to take part in battling the presence of gangs in the city that participate in criminal activity.
    That's what makes a gang, Winskey said. "Once you engage in criminal activity as a group, you're a gang."
    The local gangs, which number about 15, include clusters of youth who call themselves names such as the Whitesville Boys, the Crosstown Squad, and the 3rd Mob, which is located in Portal.
    There are girls'  gangs as well: the 309 Gang, the Bottom Girls.
    The names change, memberships change, "especially with the juveniles," he said. Groups split and rejoin and change names.
    And are they affiliated with the nationwide gangs? "Most likely," he said.
    The glamor is accentuated by what kids see on television. Many rap stars and other idols use gang signs and wear gang-related clothing or otherwise show support or affiliation with gangs, and America's kids emulate that, he said.
    And when a newcomer to Statesboro arrives who may have had membership in a gang in a larger city, he or she brings the gang activity with them, he said.
    How long has gang activity been in Statesboro? Although in the recent past city leaders denied there were gangs in the area, Winskey was up front when asked the question: "I've been here since 1997, and it (gang activity) was here before I got here."
    While the gang activity in Statesboro hasn't escalated to major crime, there is some element of "semi-organized crime" here, he said. "There have been strings of burglaries, shoplifting, drugs."
Detention Centers: Gang colleges?
    When teens and juveniles commit crimes, they are often sent to detention centers. Does this teach them not to commit crimes? No, said Bill Martin, with the Department of Juvenile Justice Bulloch County office.
    Detention centers " are breeding grounds for (gang) activity," he said. "These locations are the last resort to get these people off the street."
    Off the street and right into a situation where they may need protection, and often find themselves forming alliances with gang connections, he said. "We would like to say the programs are beneficial, but ... are breeding grounds  and learning centers" for gang activity.
    "It is a badge of honor to be in a detention center," Tracy said. "It doesn't teach you how to deal with life outside. I think all of us would agree, that's not where a lot of these kids should be if they're going to get better."
    But what can be done to battle gangs if detention doesn't work?
    "It's about the community," Winskey said. "We have to  take responsibility. If you see somebody's kid messing up, try to help them. If it gets to law enforcement involvement, it's too late."
    Gangs don't just tag buildings and other surfaces with graffiti, wear certain clothing styles and fight with each other, he said. The crimes can escalate, and stealing and shoplifting is a common pastime.
    "I just arrested two 12-year-olds who shot a basketball player and a coach's car with a BB gun shoplifted from Wal-Mart," he said. "Yes, (gang affiliation) has infiltrated middle school and I wouldn't be surprised if it is in elementary school."
    Citizens must step up and take action if gangs are to be eliminated in the area, he said. If anyone sees any behavior that seems t be gang-related, they "need to immediately notify the police," he said.
Community involvement
    It will take community members, parents especially, joining forces with local law enforcement and school officials to combat the problem, Tracy said.
    A group concerned about gangs tried to secure a grant for Statesboro to address the issue, but were turned down. "Statesboro was not invited to submit the grant because there is not enough violent crime," she said.
    That's good, but "This means no money to fund fighting gangs."
    However, there is a "weed and seed" task force group targeting Statesboro's most at-risk areas - Whitesville and the Westside, she said.
    And keeping kids involved in the Boys and Girls Club of Bulloch county helps a great deal, Winskey said. "The Boys and Girls Club is a tremendous help in this area ... it is one of the better things for the community."
    But it will take parents most of all to combat possible gang activity, Tracy said. She urged parents to get to know their children's friends and the friends' parents; know where their children are at all times, and not accept generic answers such as "I'm going out" or "nothing" when asked where they are going and what they will be doing.
    York said he was impressed with the size of the group that attended Tuesday's meeting and hoped more people would become interested and involved.
    "It's good to see this many people come out and be involved in a community meeting," he said. "This is one of the first steps to solving problems. It is time we take responsibility for actions."
    Today, there are too many " kids raising kids" and failures in parenting, he said. This creates an unstable family environment that is conducive to youth becoming involved in the wrong kid of support group - gangs.
    Gang activity leads t o "thefts, burglaries, robberies, disruptive behavior, fights, loudness, unruliness," he said. "A gang's key element is criminal activity."
    Battling the problem is definitely going to take a community effort, he said. At this time, "the biggest problem in Statesboro is youth, or juveniles. They need to be part of a family - your own family, not a street gang family."
    He asked the group to be an active participant in helping combat gang activity. "I need your help in all fields. This community is worth it not only for ourselves, but for our children and our seniors.
    Is it (gangs) here? There ain't no question," he said. " Do we want that in our community? The only gang I want to see in town is my gang (meaning police officers)."
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