Local News

NC Wanted: Are gang-fighting efforts enough?

Posted August 8, 2008 3:22 p.m. EDT
Updated August 9, 2008 6:41 a.m. EDT

— 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.