The percentage of school age kids who join gangs is regrettably on the rise. According to the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, which conducts the annual back-to-school survey, about one in four teens attending public schools reported the presence of both gangs and drugs at their schools, and 32 percent of 12 and 13 year old middle school children said drugs were used, kept, or sold on school grounds. The total findings suggest that as many as 5.7 million public school children in the U.S. attend schools with both drugs and gangs. The FBI reported that there are now 1.4 million gang members involved in some 33,000 different gangs that are active inside the United States. That number has increased by 40 percent since 2009. The types of crimes gang members commit are not limited to such crimes as assault; drug trafficking, firearms offenses, robberies, and homicide. Needless to say, the issue of children in gangs and gang violence is a real problem not only here in Virginia, but in other parts of the United States.
Tag on utility box. Photo taken in Norfolk, Va. by Meg Turco
Sidewalk tag. Taken in Norfolk, Va. by Meg Turco
Gang tag on utility box. Photo taken in Virginia Beach,Va. by Meg Turco
“One reason kids gravitate toward gangs,” says Charlottesville, Va. Gang Reduction Steering Committee, “is that they are not getting enough love and attention at home, a deeply rooted dysfunction that may be tough to correct. But another problem may be that parents simply are not aware of the dangers facing their children; parents may be uninvolved not because they do not care, but because they do not know.” The Violence Prevention Institute further reports that “If young people cannot communicate their concerns and problems to someone significant at home or at school, they could make a negative decision to join a gang, which would affect them for the rest of their lives.”
Gang tag. Photo taken in Virginia Beach, Va. by Meg Turco
Children in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Portsmouth, Va. are not immune to the problem of gang violence especially if their parents abdicate the responsibility to educate them about this danger. Police Officer Leta Kreiger, a 16-year veteran of the Virginia Beach Crime Prevention Unit, states, “It is the low-income areas, single-family homes, and inaccessible parents or caregivers that contribute to the gang problem.” Experienced in leading gang awareness presentations and self-defense workshops as well as at-home security assessments in relation to crime prevention, Kreiger confirms that gangs have established roots in Hampton Roads, both in the schools and in the community. “We have neighborhood grass roots gangs and we have national level.”
In fact, just nearby in Portsmouth,Va. Bloods leader Dearnta Thomas now 24, nicknamed “Bloody Razor,” was charged last year with committing crimes such as shootings and robberies that occurred when he was between the ages of 12 and 18 years old. He faces a maximum of life in prison if convicted of the most serious racketeering counts.
In the following video, Officer David Nieves of The Virginia Beach Police Department, talks about gang activity in Hampton Roads Virginia. He explains “If parents are not going to take care of their babies, then the gangs will do it for them.“
Why Young People Join Gangs from Meg Turco on Vimeo. Use Password: Charlie1234
Even though gang activity is often prevalent in low income areas, middle and upper class neighborhoods are not gang free. A rich child whose parents are never home may be attracted to a gang. FOX News contributor and psychiatrist Dr. Keith Ablow agrees that gangs can be found in wealthy areas too. “Look, the why is not just because gangs are deciding to leave the cities and settle in suburbia, though that’s part of the problem. It’s that the very kids themselves who grew up in these affluent suburbs are starting gangs of their own. And the reason for that relates to the disintegration in some areas of the American family, the fact that these kids don’t feel safe or a sense of belonging to anything, no matter how much money is in the bank. And therefore, they’re looking for family elsewhere, just like the gangs that recruited in urban centers.”
Infograph by CampaignforYouthJustice.Org
Unfortunately, minors who join gangs typically do so to fill a void created by something they are not receiving from their home life. As stated by the sources here, it could be a need to be a part of something or the camaraderie of being with other gang members. The truth is that kids often turn to gangs for the attention lacking at home. Gangs are not selective; they take anyone willing to adhere to their rules. Parents, however, can counter the attraction and influence of gangs on their children by taking an active role in their children’s lives and by listening to their children’s needs and issues as they mature. In this way, parents can serve their social responsibility to guide their children into making productive, moral choices that help keep them safe from harm.