Gang Task Force Advisory Board
GANGS: Is Your Community Prepared?
Although gangs are not new to California , they have spread from major urban areas to the suburbs and rural communities. For decades they have been associated with fighting, vandalism, and robbery.
In the past two decades, however, gang activities have become more alarming and dangerous. Drive-by shootings, carjackings, home invasions, and other acts of senseless violence have become too frequent in communities throughout California , destroying the lives of all who are touched by this violence.
With the spread of gangs and their increasingly random violence, we cannot afford to ignore their presence. We must respond as a community. We must all work together - parents, community members, clergy, businesses, educators, law enforcement, and local government. We must find ways to steer our youth away from gangs. We have the power to give them options, opportunities, and alternatives to joining gangs.
This site provides general information about gangs, how to recognize signs of gang involvement, and what you and your community can do to prevent gang activity.
Early Signs of Gang Involvement
Gang involvement can begin as early as elementary school. Children as young as 7 or 8 years old have been recruited to work for gangs. Parents and educators should watch for the signs that their children or students may be involved with gangs. Changes in a child's behavior or activities which may be early warning signs of gang involvement include:
- Decline in grades
- Change of friends
- Keeping late hours
- Alcohol and other drug use
- Having large sums of money or expensive items which cannot be explained
- Developing major attitude problems with parents, teachers, or others in authority
- Glamorizing gangs
Signs of Serious Gang Involvement
There are different levels of gang activity, ranging from “criminal street gang” activity to the delinquent behaviors of juveniles. Juvenile delinquent behaviors, which include extorting lunch money, writing graffiti, vandalism, bullying, intimidation, stealing bicycles, shoplifting, drug use, and truancy, can lead to serious criminal street gang activity.
Signs of gang involvement include:
- Gang graffiti on bedroom walls, books, clothing, athletic shoes, and posters
- Gang uniforms or gang colors
- Hand signals to communicate with other gang members
- Photos showing gang names, slogans, insignia, hand signals, or individuals involved in gang activities
- Gang style language
- Gang tattoos or gang insignias
- Disclosure of gang membership
- Fingernails painted a certain color
- Gang-color shoelaces in athletic shoes
- Specific hairstyles (such as Skinheads shaving their heads bald or a group of females all wearing their hair in a ponytail)
- Possession of weapons such as shaved-down baseball bats, sections of pipe taped at the ends, spiked wrist bands, chemical mace, knives, handguns, sawed-off shotguns, and semi-automatic firearms
Clothing color and style sometime serve to identify each gang. For example, with African-American gangs, the color red stands for “Bloods,” blue for “Crips.” Black and dark or dull colors tend to be favored by some Hispanic gangs and white Heavy Metal groups. Other favored gang colors may be brown or purple. Whether they use color or not, traditional gangs will generally adopt some article of clothing or style of dress in order to distinguish themselves as a group.
Signs of Gangs in Your Neighborhood
One of the first signs of the presence of a gang in your neighborhood is graffiti. Graffiti is a clear marking of territorial boundaries which serves as a warning and challenge to rival gangs. It is also used to communicate messages between gangs. The graffiti may indicate the gang's name, the member's nickname, a declaration of loyalty, a memorial to a slain gang member, threats, challenges, and warnings to rival gangs, or a description of criminal acts which the gang has been involved. Gang graffiti is most commonly found on neighborhood walls, fences, and mailboxes.
Another type of gang is known as a tagging crew. Tagging crews are individuals (known as “taggers”) who initially group together for the sole purpose of placing their names or slogans in visible locations or having tagging competitions known as “battles” with other tagging crews when they are challenged. While tagging can be done by individuals or crews who have no gang affiliation, trends are showing that more and more tagging crews are being identified (by law enforcement) as another type of street gang.
YOUTHS HANGING OUT
Another sign that gangs may be in your neighborhood is the presence of large numbers of youths hanging around public parks, high schools, fast food stands, convenience stores, and other hang-outs for teenagers. You may also notice the frequent use of public phone booths by people who actually receive phone calls there.
Drug gangs set up shop in homes, apartments, or hotels. These sites, known as “rock” or drug houses, are used for the manufacturing, distribution, and sale of illegal drugs. Drug houses are usually in disrepair and are the site of many parties. The most identifiable characteristic of a drug house, however, is the heavy traffic of people coming into the house for short periods and then leaving.
INCREASE IN CRIME
Your community may experience an increase in gang-related crimes such as vandalism, assaults, burglaries, robberies, and even random drive-by shootings.
Why Should You Get Involved?
Gang membership can severely damage a child's future. Gang members usually socialize with other gang members, reinforcing their limited view of life. They often drop out of school, limiting their chances of higher education, employment, and upward mobility. They frequently establish a lifelong pattern of involvement with the criminal justice system. They may commit serious and violent crimes that lead to lengthy incarcerations. They may be killed or injured. They may place an entire household of family members at risk. The gang members that do make it to adulthood often become dependent on alcohol and drugs. For some, the gang lifestyle is passed down as a family tradition leading to generational gangs.
What Parents Can Do
Parents who suspect gang activity should take steps to intervene. The following are some suggested steps:
- Increase your awareness of your child's belongings, clothes, and room. Know who their friends are and where they “hang out.”
- Be willing to identify and address the dynamics within your family, as well as factors within the neighborhood and school that could be contributing to your child's gang involvement.
- Talk to your child or teenager. Get answers to your questions about their behavior and discuss the consequences of being in a gang.
- Talk to school officials and counselors. Ask if they are aware of campus problems and if there are school programs that will help.
- Contact your local law enforcement agency or juvenile probation department. They may have a crime prevention or gang specialist who can give you up-to-date information.
- Call community-based organizations. Many have experience with gang problems and can give you valuable guidance.
- Go to your religious leaders for advice. They may know of programs that help neighborhood children stay out of gangs.
- Report and immediately remove any graffiti in your neighborhood or local school grounds.
- Take action – this is the most important thing you can do as an individual, a group, or an organization.
What Your Neighborhood Can Do
You and your neighbors can work to get gangs and drugs out of your community. The key is being organized. Remember, prevention is the key to controlling gang activity. Everyone and every community can work on solutions to the gang problem. Effective anti-gang efforts begin with partnerships among parents, schools, law enforcement, religious institutions, community organizations, businesses, and youth.
To reduce gang violence, graffiti and illegal drug use in California , laws have been enacted specially aimed at gangs. These laws assist law enforcement agencies, district attorneys. judges, schools, and communities in mounting a comprehensive attack on the problem. Some of the anti-gang laws target such criminal activity as:
Penalties for active participation in a criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in criminal activity; adults who use violent coercion to induce a minor to participate in criminal street gangs; providing firearms to gang members.
Penalties for active possession, sales, or purchase by a minor of an aerosol container of paint for graffiti purposes; parental liability for fines relating to graffiti convictions.
For murder committed in a drive-by shooting, and murder committed in the perpetration of carjacking, or for shooting at an occupied vehicle.
For conviction of a felony committed to promote or assist in any criminal conduct by gang members; felonies committed on or near a school.
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