Local Politics

Former gang member issues caution about gang legislation

Posted May 21, 2008
Updated May 22, 2008

— As the state Senate on Wednesday approved legislation intended to crack down on gang activity, WRAL asked a former gang member if he thinks the bills will work.

Otis Lyons said he welcomes laws to toughen penalties for gang activity, including recruitment. He says gangs are targeting children as young as age eight.

However, Lyons said people should not expect tougher penalties to deter gang involvement.

"You have got to understand they are naive to the law. They don't even know the bill was passed,” he said.

The Street Gang Prevention Act would increase penalties for gang members charged with crimes – actions that now are misdemeanors would become felonies, for example – and would make recruiting youths into gangs a crime in itself.

"The majority of the people that I know are in gangs,” former gang member Otis Lyons said. "I started one of the first gangs in Durham.”

Lyons now works with a group called “Campaign for Change.” It tries to stop young people from making the same mistakes he made.

"I woke up and looked at myself and knew that it wasn't a life that I wanted to continue to live,” he said.

The Senate has passed its version of the act, as well as a House version that passed that chamber a year ago. Both bills now go back to the House for final approval.

"It's a good first step. We'll need to see how it goes,” Wake County District Attorney Colon Willoughby said.

Willoughby said the legislation that lawmakers approved does a good job of not overreaching in the definition of a gang.

"It takes more than a red bandanna to make someone in a gang, and I think judges and juries will look at that very closely,” he said.

Willoughby and Lyons agree that laws are not the answer. It is up to communities to help solve the gang problem.

"All of the good gang legislation in the world won't do anything if we don't get the witnesses,” Willoughby said.

"Intervention and prevention. I think that should be done first, and I think that should be done at a very early age,” Lyons said.

In addition to the criminal penalties, the bill would provide state money for gang prevention programs at the county level. Finding the money in the state budget is a primary sticking point in the Senate, but state Rep. Micky Michaux, D-Durham, said the prevention programs are the real benefit of the legislation.


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  • pleshy May 23, 2008

    You do realize that gangs existed in this country since before the Articles of Confederation (for those of you who don't know, that is the document before the Constitution) and date back to when New York City was New Amsterdam. Urban poor have always banded together in an effort to protect their group and make money. Gangs are basically corporations or unions - a hierarchy of management with a large labor pool to do the work. The difference is criminal activities rather than production of goods or services generates capital for the group. The (terrible) move "Gangs of New York" was not complete fiction - gangs have existed much longer than welfare.

  • humbleblaklady May 22, 2008

    PREVENTION AND CHILDREN/YOUTH DEVELOPMENT SHOULD BE PRIORITY to help minimize gangs and the destruction of young people and our communities. VISIT www.americaschildrelay.com FOR A GREAT PROGRAM. You can "get kids off the streets by locking them all up. The KEY is to get them and keep them positively involved; Educationally and career wise.
    Stop the BLAME GAME and visit : www.americaschildrelay.com for some SOLUTIONS!

  • Pac-Man May 22, 2008

    "My mind is my nine!" "Use you mind, not your nine!"

    Ka-Boom! (my head just exploded)

    Anyone else seen this commercial?

  • whatusay May 22, 2008

    pleshy...well said...wellwisher. everything everyone is discussing is about this article..."what is causing gangs". Problem is the government is looking at hard discipline as a way to control gangs. That will never work..we need to look at what causes gangs. The government welfare is what created the gangs we see today and the Democrats introduced welfare. Welfare is the root of all evil that will be the down fall of this country. What created ghettos - welfare. And yes...political parties did help create ghettos. By offering non working American money to breed children without a father will always create poverty, disparity, and hopelessness.

  • well wisher May 22, 2008

    Lets not drift from the article. The article isn't about ghettos and the poor. It's about gangs. Is there a connection, yes , to an certain point. Just because your poor or in the ghettos doesn't mean that u are in a gang. I've seen gang members who have very prominent families. It's a life style, a (poor) choice and most importantly, poor up bringing. If you are in a gang and victimize people. go to jail. I have no sympathy or remorse for gang bangers being locked up.

  • pleshy May 22, 2008

    Political parties didn't create ghettos - white flight from urban areas to the suburbs did. Now you see "gentrification" of urban areas - which is white flight in reverse - a retaking of urban areas by forcing up housing prices and pushing urban poor and minorities out to the first (now oldest and run down) ring of suburbs. What triggered white flight? Some would say Brown v. Board of Ed. My opinion is it was a mix of factors - self-segregation, property values being depressed by urban poor neighborhoods, the crime that arises when poor reach the end of the rope and need/want things, the tinge of affluence that comes with owning a big yard, boomer families in need of more space, cheap gasoline, WWII vets wanting peace and quiet and relief from urban areas that remind them of the European theater, any number of things.....

  • natecrawler May 22, 2008

    Oh I see whatusay..it's all the Dems fault..never mind the GOP creating and keeping minorities in ghettos..offering no light at the end of the tunnel..at least the Dems are trying to reach out to these kids instead of just shoving them into cells and washing their hands of them

  • pleshy May 22, 2008

    smoke/RB - I never asserted this as a fact or as a logical conclusion - that's why i prefaced my comment with "I think." My opinion, nothing more. However, I don't think the citizens of Amsterdam who don't abuse drugs are more likely to do so if they come to the US and can only abuse drugs in violation of the law. It stands to reason that if people do not abuse drugs in a municipality where it is legal (or at least not illegal) to do so, those same people are going to not abuse drugs anywhere else, legal or not. Frankly, I don't see a down side. Will children be hurt by this? It is likely. But these are the same children being hurt by it now. If the system were legal and distribution regulated similar to Class 2 prescriptions, then there would be a way to monitor and assist and likely prevent (or at least ensure better care) for the individuals harmed by narcotics use. Unlike now.

  • richard2 May 22, 2008

    gang laws and hate crime laws are dumb. just enforce the laws we have for everybody.

  • foetine May 22, 2008

    UNC clothing is considered gang colors in parts of the country. We should forced UNC to change up their Carolina Blue to put an end to this gang.