Early intervention needed to combat gangs

Posted February 16, 2010

— Middle school is a time when young people are beginning to figure out what path they will take in life, and it appears as if joining a gang is one of their options.

Russ Smith, senior security director for the Wake County Public School System, says students in grades 6-8 – as young as 11 years old – have been involved in 42 percent of gang-related activity reported in Wake schools so far for the 2009-2010 school year.

Early intervention needed to combat gangs Early intervention needed to combat gangs

Last year, Smith says, 47 percent of the 677 documented incidents of gang-related activity – anything from wearing clothing that shows affiliation with a gang to defacing school property with gang-related symbols of slogans – involved middle school students.

"I think we're seeing a lot of students that have been exposed to gang activity, and they're emulating that on our campuses," Smith said.

Capt. Andy Nichol, who oversees the Raleigh Police Department's two Gang Suppression Units, says that there are about 3,000 gang members in Raleigh associated with 56 different cliques or sects. Of those, 10 percent are 18 years old or younger; 50 percent are between 18 and 22 years old.

"You're really not surprised anymore," Nichol said. "The names, the faces change, but the crimes pretty much remain the same."

Nichol says that one of the reasons people of younger ages are becoming more associated with gangs is that adult gang members often use juveniles to commit crimes because the penalties they face under the law are less severe.

"They're enticed by it," he said. "Obviously, we know they're looking for a sense of belonging and gravitate toward that."

That's why intervention, as early as possible, is necessary.

"The sooner that we can intervene in a situation, the success rate with addressing that behavior increases," Nichol said. "(We) take the small things seriously so it doesn't erupt into something violent."

In school, Anthony Muttillo, principal of West Millbrook Middle School, says the key for helping to keep the hallways safe is identifying and stopping any gang activity as soon as staff becomes aware of it.

"At the first sign – a doodling on a notebook that could be gang-related – we're going to call that student in. We're going to talk to that student," he said. "We're going to call the parent in, get them involved."

Outside the classroom, nonprofit programs like Second Round Boxing are helping to address the problem.

The program uses boxing, weight training and other forms of exercise, boxing program director Matthew Schnars says, to try to help young people get out of gangs, keep them out and keep them in school.

"It's an opportunity for them to shine under a different light," Schnars said. "They can learn it as a sport and learn to be athletes, as opposed to hurting each other and hurting their communities."

The mentoring program, offered by Haven House Services in downtown Raleigh, has nearly 300 participants, both male and female, ages 9 to 22. More than 200 are from Raleigh; others are from elsewhere in Wake County.

Participants must go to school and maintain a C average and clean record to stay in the program.

"We've got to give them the positive role models – people to interact with – and give them other options besides the gang lifestyle," Nichol said. "You've got to really work with them over an extended period of time so you can gain their trust and (they) feel you're on their side."

The program is seeing success.

After spending more than two years in prison for kidnapping and drugs, 18-year-old Jaime Diaz realized he needed to get out of the gang lifestyle.

"I was looking for love (on the streets). I didn't have at home," he said. "When I went to jail, I was like, 'No, this ain't my life. This is not for me.'"

Another program participant, who identified himself only as Reggie, joined a gang at age 15.

"There was something missing at (my) house, so I went out to the street to get it," he said.

After two stints in prison, Reggie, now 24, is back in school and has a job because of the program.

"They went to bat for me. They show me there's other people out here in the world that actually care for you," Reggie said. "I sleep a lot better at night. I'm less stressed out. I think clearer."

"There's so much I can do with my life, so many places I can go that I haven't been yet," Reggie said. "I don't want to miss that."


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  • thekittybees Feb 18, 2010

    Schools and social programs are charged with the responsibility of raising the children. Sexually irresponsible males and females, are only concerned for the production end of the process...make the baby to get the EIC or AFDC or other financial aid and then make some more babies. Parents are there to work with children, teach them wrong from right. Why should the schools constantly be charged with teaching ethics and good behavior. Teaching math and science and English are hard enough!

  • b4jesus2 Feb 17, 2010

    I would like to say all of these problems no doubt has come from taking God out of everything....whether you want to believe it or not it is the truth and the truth will set you free. It is a cycle that is only going to get worst matter the programs you have...until God is put back where He control of our lives. We are not born into this world just to do as we hasn't worked and never will. Parents you need to grow up and take some responsibility for your actions.I grew up in a housing project in Raleigh which has been since torn down and yes I could have chosen a life that could have turn like these gangs but thanks to God I don't have to live like that anymore. My husband and I raised 3 sons that are adults now and love and serve the Lord with their families. yes it can be done.John 3:16

  • kal Feb 17, 2010

    Gangs are like fools gold-It looks so appealing until you are ready to cash it in to find out you really have nothing.

  • lifeisgood803 Feb 16, 2010

    Parenting is the only answer. Disgustingly, there is no accountability for those who bring children into this world, and DO NOT parent them. Adults are too afraid to parent because it might make the children mad. TOUGH! Children are starving for guidance, attention, and rational discipline from their parents. It's time to start holding these adults more accountable for neglecting their parental responsibilities.

  • Hans Feb 16, 2010

    So how do you folks suggest we enforce good parenting?

  • SaveEnergyMan Feb 16, 2010

    Marco, was getting ready to post the same thing. Early works best, like when they are small children. Kids often get into gangs to replace a family that is missing. If families raise their kids and stress the importance of education, we could fix a lot of problems in this world.

  • colliedave Feb 16, 2010

    "They're enticed by it," he said. "Obviously, we know they're looking for a sense of belonging and gravitate toward that."
    That's why intervention, as early as possible, is necessary

    It isn't PC, but it is called having a mother AND a father in the home where both are active in the role of parenting

  • dmn Feb 16, 2010

    3000 gang members in Raleigh?
    Time to get my conceal/carry permit.
    What ever happened to disciplining your kids. Spanking works!

  • MarcoPolo Feb 16, 2010

    "Early intervention needed to combat gangs"

    wouldn't that be called parenting. Wow, imagine that. If only we could get more taxpayer money to throw at social programming.