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NC Wanted: Are gang-fighting efforts enough?

Posted August 8, 2008
Updated August 9, 2008

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— Federal authorities have joined with Raleigh police to take down leaders of street gangs. The state Legislature has toughened penalties for gang-related crimes. But will that show of force stymie the Triangle's growing gang problem?

Fox 50's NC Wanted talked to adults working on the front lines, in our area's toughest gang neighborhoods.

To protect their identities, some people interviewed for the story were given fake names.

One community organizer said that "well-reasoned" legislation should balance the competing demands of protecting rights and protecting citizens.

"I don't believe in knee-jerk reactions to violations of the law. I don't believe that we just pass anything to get gang legislation on the books," Stormy Ellis, a Durham assistant district attorney, said.

"I think that it needs to be effective ... (and) protect that ability to assemble," Ellis continued. "I think we need to protect the Constitution as much as possible.

"But we also need to protect the citizenry. And gang members are dangerous."

A recent survey estimated there are 14,500 gang members in North Carolina, and projections put those numbers at 29,000 to 41,000 within five years. Some who have been working with young gang members worry that recent efforts against that growth might be too little, too late.

"Nobody is standing up,"  Martina "Coach D" Dunford, director of the New Horizons alternative school in Durham, said. "There is not one celebrity, no rapper, no president, no nobody who is standing in the gap for you, and we got this big, old youth problem across the world. .... Ain't doing jack, because the problem's just as bad or worse as it was before."

Both community activists and law enforcement officials agree that the police and courts cannot end the gang problem on their own. The ideal solution, they said, is finding the potential gang member before he ever commits a crime.

"There's kids out there that need things," said Hank Smith, gang prevention coordinator for the John Avery Boys and Girls Club in Durham. "I didn't have stuff growing up, so it's interesting to see what people will do in desperation. And all you really have to do is offer them something, and they can help themselves."

Police officers said the widespread problems caused by gang violence mean that many types of people can play a role in fighting it.

"Law enforcement, we just happen to be on the front lines. We're the boots on the ground," said Fayeteville police Lt. Mark Bridgeman, president of the North Carolina Gang Investigator's Association.

"But so are the teachers. So are social workers. So are health-care professionals that are treating gunshot victims in the ER," Bridgeman continued. "You know, Little League coaches, high school coaches, you name, we're all stakeholders.

"So it's not just a law-enforcement issue. It's an everybody issue."


Watch “NC Wanted: Growing up Hard” Saturday after the 10 p.m. news on Fox 50.
Get a first-hand accounts of life on the streets with gangs.

14 Comments

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  • TheAdmiral Aug 11, 2008

    "Our children don't take us seriously because we stopped taking education seriously with the end in Corporal Punishment. "

    The children don't take us seriously because "Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child" and when you spoiled the child without discipline you now see your failure.

    Then you kicked out the faith based organizations and the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, etc because they believe that you have to be morally straight, and you now see your failure.

    It was denied several decades, but now it is undeniable. If you kick out the good, only evil remains. Now the good in the schools are being threatened by the Evil that you said would never happen.

    Welcome to Californication.

  • TheAdmiral Aug 11, 2008

    Sigh - Unfortunately society does not want to deal with the gang issue. They are all self-absorbed.

  • teacher-mom Aug 8, 2008

    joyleng how can you afford to do that? It is all I can do to afford my son. You must be getting some help from somewhere. I think it is great that you are helping these people. You have to be very careful, if there is a problem, you will be held responsible. I have let my son's friends stay with us on and off. It gets expensive. Best of luck to you. If you have children be careful who you have around them.

  • TackyClothes Aug 8, 2008

    I'm SO sick of hearing about gangs, the issue is really overrated if you ask me. I think the government is over-hyping the story to receive grant money from the state to "combat" gang violence...ummmm really?? So why is there only a total of 18 officers in the gang unit??? Whats really going on is the government is in return spending that grant money on things other than controlling gangs. I'm going to go a step further and give you an example: two weeks ago there was a shooting on the campus of NCSU the police are saying "gang related", one of the suspects was a junior at the school....OK lets break this down and analyze it....here's an educated observation, 'gangsters' don't attend college. Here's my theory it was an isolated event but the police department is going to say it was gang realted...go figure eh'.

  • joyleng Aug 8, 2008

    I hear that all the time. Where are the parents? Fine ask that question but think of it this way to what are we doing to stop this. I am 27 and out of the kindness in my heart I have taken in three girls to make their lives better. I don't have a bunch of money but I take care of them. They aren't even mine and I just met them a year ago so ask yourselves what are you doing to help the youth of this nation. It is our RESPONSIBLITY to make sure young people are taken care of. All they want is to socialize and have an adult who listens to them. If we can't do that then what are we doing. "I don't have time" and "It isn't my problem" just don't work. We need to get off our behinds and make it easy for these kids to have someone to talk to, somewhere cool to hang out and if they disrespect that then punish them with groundation and taken away the priveleges they so much adore. Ask the nine kids that live in my two bedroom two bath apartment if you don't think it works.

  • knothead Aug 8, 2008

    You take God out of the schools, you take discipline out of the schools, you take access to organizations that are a healthy alternative and that have firm beliefs and morals (like the Boy Scouts)out of the schools, you throw in parents who are too scared to raise their children with discipline and then you let a bunch of lefist social liberals get control and what have you got... a couple of generations of disrespetctful hooligans who don't care about anything but themselves.

  • teacher-mom Aug 8, 2008

    Excellent point about gangs being terrorists. I agree about what is going to happen in the future. If children are not included in the mainstream, they will go to the lunatic fringe.

    We need to quit subsidizing all of these children. i do not care what race, sex, or religion. We need to quit adding more burden to an already overburdened taxpayer. I love children; it is not fair to them to place them in poverty. It is not fair for them to grow up being abused. No wonder they are angry. This anger needs to be directed at the people who put these children in harm's way in the first place not at society in general. We are subsidizing our financial and moral decline. The obly way you are going to stop it is to cut off the money.

  • wrx44 Aug 8, 2008

    Where are the parents?....the question no one wants to ask.

  • NZ Aug 8, 2008

    Our children don't take us seriously because we stopped taking education seriously with the end in Corporal Punishment.

    We need alternative sentencing in the judicial system similar to what the Singapore government metes.

    We need to put a loving sting of correction in our youth or they will continue to seek structure from gangs.

    We do not want to end up like LA. We only so recently had a means to affect major discipline in schools. Our larger districts need to take a page out of the 70's Student Rights and Responsibilities.

    We could fix it tomorrow with the political, judicial will and determination.

  • PearlMonteverde Aug 8, 2008

    Gangs are terrorists, no different. Five years, tops & we are living in an "Iraq" like country. I'm moving to Costa Rica!

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