Article in the Salisbury Post by Hugh Fisher (firstname.lastname@example.org)
SALISBURY — Concerned citizens and community leaders met Tuesday at Livingstone College to discuss the problem of gang activity.
Salisbury may not be a large city, but it already has some gang activity.
And the solution, many agreed, is more involvement in the lives of young people to stop them from joining gangs.
The Meet Your Neighbor panel discussion and community forum, sponsored by Covenant Community Connection, featured law enforcement, government and community representatives.
Officer Christopher Schenk, of the Salisbury Police Interdiction Team, spoke of the department’s work in neighborhoods to combat gang activity. “Although we’re a small town, we have some of the big-city problems,” Schenk said. Schenk said there are “20 to 30 active criminal gang sets” in the Salisbury area. He said there are members of national gangs, including the Crips, the Bloods, and Hispanic and Asian syndicates. And, Schenk said, the Interstate 85 corridor allows members from other states to easily come in, operate for a time and then leave. Meanwhile, he said, young people in our area may be influenced to join gangs, trying to emulate what they hear in rap music or see on television.
That’s why parents need to get involved in their children’s lives as early as possible, experts said.
Tyrone Smith, founder of community group Watchful Network, said he grew up in Philadelphia in a time “when gang violence was to the extreme.” Dealing with gangs means dealing with the underlying reasons why young people join those groups, Smith said. “They may be reacting to peer pressure … or reacting to situations where people aren’t listening,” Smith said. “A lot of them are really frustrated.”
East Spencer Mayor Barbara Mallett said that residents need to get involved and meet one another, in order to know who’s who in the community. She spoke of visiting in the neighborhoods, and of the police presence in her community — not just to respond to a call, but to take the initiative to know what is going on. “We need to know our neighbors, know where people live. Who lives next door to you?” Mallett said.
William Peoples, community activist and former NAACP president, said gang members may be looking for validation. Many, he said, may not have families. “They feel less loved. They feel the gang is going to be their family,” Peoples said. “If we are going to eradicate this, we have to open our arms and our hearts.” Growing up, Peoples said, people were always looking out for one another’s children. And, he said, there isn’t enough for young people to do in Salisbury. “I stress that Salisbury is not a youth-friendly town. Think of it, what is there for youth to do in Salisbury?” he asked. He said the community needs to offer more mentoring, more recreational activities and more jobs in order to combat this issue.
Pastor Henry Diggs of Faith Temple Triumphant Ministries said more could also be done to help those who are trying to get out of gangs. Especially, he said, those who are seeking jobs. Many of these cannot find work, even when they try to start a new life, because of previous felony convictions. “They had been given so many false promises over the years,” Diggs said.
Will Carmichael, a Livingstone College student, said the DARE program and other activities had helped keep him out of gangs. He spoke of how rapidly gang symbols and colors change, and of how early involvement when he was a child in New Jersey kept him out of trouble. “We had community step teams, community basketball, community soccer,” Carmichael said. “The community steps up and goes beyond the four walls, the front door and the side door.”
Michael Kirksey said his perception was there aren’t really organized gangs or criminals in Salisbury. And, he said, people need to be reasonable. “Every three brothers on the street corner with the same t-shirt on ain’t a gang,” Kirksey said.
Another Livingstone student, Reginald Simpson of Baltimore, said young blacks are not getting encouragement to use their natural gifts. “We feel like we can’t go to college to become musicians, we can’t become business leaders and CEOs,” Simpson said. “The reason why I am here is because someone told me I can be here.”
One attendee, Starling Johnson of Johnson Concrete addressed the problem from a business stand point saying and suggested that Salisbury might benefit from a program similar to that of TROSA, in Durham, NC. TROSA is a “multi-year residential program that enables [substance] abusers to be productive, recovering individuals by providing comprehensive treatment, work-based vocational training, education and continuing care. ” Starling suggested a similar program focused on gang members (or others just out of prison) could be effective.
Communities in Schools of Rowan County was mentioned as a way to quickly get involved as a mentor to at risk youth. Communities in Schools of Rowan County has many opportunities to become involved including mentoring, tutoring, reading books to children, participating in career days and more.
Additionally, North Rowan Connection was mentioned. North Rowan Connection is a group of parents and alumni advocating for students in the northern part of the county.