Child Threat - Gangs
If it Walks Like a Duck (Prevent Delinquency Project, White Plains, NY): Despite obvious identifiers of gang affiliation on their children, a lot of parents and guardians still don't recognize them for what they are. For instance, at a street fair in Peekskill during which the Prevent Delinquency Project exhibited gang items, weapons, and drug paraphernalia common with youth, one grandmother in her 70's was surprised to learn that the red and black beads on display were a sign of membership in the Bloods. She honestly thought that local kids received them at school as awards for good grades or exemplary behavior. Her 10-year-old grandson however, quickly recognized the beads for what they were. Similarly, while meeting with an immigrant group in Mt. Kisco, one mother expressed her thoughts that a violent street gang was actually a positive community organization dedicated to helping kids. These examples highlight the need for educating parents and guardians about gangs and how to recognize them. As a general rule, "if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its a duck." Parents must not dismiss or ignore the warning signs of gang involvement, especially since they are becoming increasingly subtle. A lot of gangs no longer openly "fly" or "throw up" their colors by way of beads and bandanas, and have turned to sports attire, fashion-ware, and ordinary clothing to identify members. It is easy to miss the white t-shirts and black pants worn by those in Vatos Locos, for example, if you are not looking for it. The key is not just to recognize similarities in clothing, hand-signs, tattoos, etc., among youth, but to observe who and what they exclude from their lives. To learn more about gang identifiers, scroll down to our first Child Threat tip, Gang Affiliation, below.
Law Enforcement Is Watching (Prevent Delinquency Project, White Plains, NY): Internet predators aside, police and school administrators are reporting additional threats to children on sites like MySpace.com. Teens are using them to set up pages that openly promote gang affiliations. Many of these pages are used to harass innocent kids and challenge rival gangs to violent confrontations, that sometimes spill over into schools and on to the street. Not surprisingly, law enforcement professionals have taken to monitoring these sites for intelligence purposes, and when appropriate, effectuate arrests of juveniles who violate the law. However, parents should not rely upon the police, or anyone else, to raise their children and monitor what they are up to. Rather, parents must proactively visit these sites themselves and speak with their children about what they find. Keep in mind, many children will have more than one page - one to satisfy their parents, and another to discuss gangs, drugs, reckless sexual practices and violence. For additional tips on how to protect children online, please see the following posts below: Too Much Space, Internet Dangers and Instant Messaging & Email.
Tips From a Pro (Police Chief [Name Withheld], New England [Town Withheld]): Don't ignore kids who exhibit gang behavior, because you don't believe they belong to one. If your child starts hanging out with others who wear similar clothing, symbols, etc., and they act like a gang, treat them that way, and address the issue immediately. An inexpensive method to monitor your child's unauthorized use of a vehicle, aside from checking the mileage, is by putting a box in the trunk with some items in it. Check to see if the box/items are tipped over. It requires a little experimentation, but works. To monitor what's going on with your child on the telephone, start by reviewing telephone bills. If you suspect something is wrong, consider getting a second caller ID box and hiding it in the master bedroom or some other location in the house. Don't reveal the existence of the second box to your child. That way, if they delete the IDs from the main box (as kids often do), you'll still be able to know who was calling. Computers will provide you with a wealth of information. However, in the case of a missing child, let the police investigate computer usage first. Watch out for kids leaving school events (dances, sports, etc.) early. Also, be aware many kids use these events as a ruse to hang out with friends and never go inside the building upon their arrival. In addition, watch for them entering and leaving the building repeatedly - they may be going out for alcohol or drugs. Most schools prevent this at dances, but it still happens at sporting events. To know what is occurring at such events, volunteer to chaperone, or at least speak to those who do. Lastly, keep on good terms with your neighbors. They can tell you if strange cars are in the driveway or other kids are hanging out at your house. Sometimes, your child's friends may park down the street and walk to your house. PDP note: Although we were asked not to list the name and town of the Police Chief who provided these great tips, we thought it appropriate to inform you of his position. He is a professional with a lot of experience and parents should welcome his advice.
Music & Gangs (Anonymous, New Haven, CT): A number of recording artists have reported gang ties including Snoop Dog (Crips), 2 Pac (Crips) and DMX (Bloods). Prevent Delinquency Project ("PDP") note: Start listening carefully to the words in the music your children play - in many cases, it's disturbing. A lot of the "artists" are actively promoting and glamorizing gang membership.
Gang Affiliation (Prevent Delinquency Project, White Plains, NY): The color red, is a known symbol of the Bloods gang, and when a child tends to favor this color and avoids wearing other colors such as blue (which designates the rival Crips gang), it should raise an eyebrow. Gangs not only frequently use the color of clothing to identify members, but also bandannas, beads, sneaker brands and laces, and as of late, sports team logos and designer wear. For example, in certain geographic areas, the Pittsburgh Pirates team designates the Latin Kings, the Philadelphia Phillies the Vice Lords, the Detroit Tigers the Folks, the Chicago Bulls the Bloods, etc. If your child tends to associate exclusively with one group and has lost old friends that is also a "red flag." Continue to investigate further. Besides clothing, look for other gang identifiers such as graffiti, ritualistic behavior, unusual language, tattoos and brands, strange symbols including numbers, letters, and acronyms, hand signs, hand-written literature that he/she carries and reads but hides from others, and bragging. Youth who join gangs do so for a number of reasons including excitement, respect, protection, power, drugs and money. They are proud of their membership and even if sworn to secrecy will often admit it. If you do find any of the additional identifiers take a look at the links on this website related to gangs. There is a lot of information available to you online. Many of the symbols, graffiti, hand signs, etc., can be deciphered if you take the time to "learn the language." Above all, get involved in your child's life. Love and support him/her. Spend time with him/her. Talk to the parents of his/her friends. Speak with his/her teachers. Do not allow him/her to carry weapons, wear gang attire, hang-out in areas frequented by gangs, or associate with known gang members. Address any issues of substance abuse, contact with law enforcement or behavioral problems. It won't be easy, but you can make a difference.