Clues your child could be in a gang -


Could your child be in a gang?

About 33,000 violent street, motorcycle and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members are criminally active in the United States according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Think your child would never join a gang? Officials estimate that two out of every five gang members is a teenager or child.

Simple clues many parents miss include a sports logo, bandanna, tattoo, or just an odd, new nickname.

Any of these things could also be your child's way of telling you and everyone else, they're involved in a gang.

"The perfect child at home could be running around with a pistol while he's not with his mother," said former gang member Wade "8Ball".

Wade's first name was given at birth by his mother, but he was given his "8Ball" name by his membership in a gang.

"I became a neo-Nazi skinhead," Wade confessed to America Now Reporter Casey Roman.

Today, however, Wade is a member of North Carolina Restoration Church where he and other former gang members offer active gang members and their families a way to get help.

The biggest mistake he says parents make is ignoring the obvious signs such as a colorful closet that suddenly turns to a single shade or logo, or school papers with little symbols on them.

If you child's school grades drop as well as those whom he/she associates with, or if they have cash and clothing that apparently came from nowhere, that could be indicators of gang involvement.

If your daughter is no longer "daddy's little princess" and becomes aggressive and distant, this drastic change in behavior could be due to her affiliation with a gang and the fact that she is now someone else's "possession."

"They roll the dice and that's how many members the girl has to have sex with," Wade said.

Ray Wilson is a gang prevention specialist with the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department's Gang of One initiative.

He has seen children involved in gangs as early as elementary school.

Wilson says a growing trend today is where gang members move from tagging things on the street to locations on their "screens."

Instead of spraying messages on buildings in their neighborhood, the new graffiti is online and is called "cybertagging."

Teenage thuds have been caught recruiting, promoting, intimidating rivals, and bragging about crimes through social media sites including Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

All it takes is just a few clicks on the internet and any interested child can find photos of gang life, videos of violence, and, ultimately, a way to join a gang--all in the privacy of their bedroom.

That's why Wilson says parents who suspect their kids may be involved in a gang need to take charge.

"I'm saying, it's your house, take the hinges off the door," he recommends.

To get your child out of a gang, Wilson encourages parents to get involved.

He says parents need to talk to their teens about why they have joined a gang.

Some reasons teens give for joining gangs is due to acceptance, protection, anger and money which Wilson says are all issues that can be worked through.

Most local police department have a gang unit that can give parents an action plan, but this success depends on whether the child wants out of the group. 

"Some are ‘blood in, blood out,'" Wilson says. "Some of them, you don't get out of."

In some cases, families have moved to another state or the other side of the country in an attempt to disassociate with a gang.

Experts say that's more likely to work with smaller neighborhood gangs, but not with nationwide gang organizations.

That's why places like North Carolina Restoration Church offer a more direct approach to getting out of a gang.

Church members who are former gang members mediate between the child's gang and the family.

While not all law enforcement agencies agree that parents should involve themselves in the gang system, all believe prevention begins with parent involvement.

All agree that getting a child out of a gang is never hopeless until a parent decides to do nothing.

Additional Information:

The following information is from an FBI article entitled "2011 National Gang Threat Assessment – Emerging Trends." <>.

  • Prepaid cell phones, social networking and microblogging websites, VoIP systems, virtual worlds, and gaming systems enable gang members to communicate globally and discreetly.
  • Gang members routinely utilize the Internet to communicate with one another, recruit, promote their gang, intimidate rivals and police, conduct gang business, showcase illegal exploits, and facilitate criminal activity such as drug trafficking, extortion, identity theft, money laundering, and prostitution. Social networking, microblogging, and video-sharing websites-such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter-are now more accessible, versatile, and allow tens of thousands of gang members to easily communicate, recruit, and form new gang alliances nationwide and worldwide.
  • Gangs use social networking sites such as Facebook to promote their gang, post photos of their gang lifestyle, and display their bravado, which ultimately influences other youth to join gangs.
  • The proliferation of social networking websites has made gang activity more prevalent and lethal-moving gangs from the streets into cyber space. Gang members, criminals, and drug traffickers are using the Internet not only to recruit and build their social networks, but to expand and operate their criminal networks without the proximity once needed for communication. Likewise, youth in other regions and countries are influenced by what they see online and may be encouraged to connect with or emulate a gang, facilitating the global spread of gang culture.

About 33,000 violent street, gangs, motorcycle gangs and prison gangs with about 1.4 million members are criminally active in the U.S. today.  Source: FBI, <>

The following tips are on an FBI publication entitled, "A Parent's Quick Reference Card Recognizing and Preventing Gang involvement." Source: <>

  • Shows unusual interest in one or two particular colors of clothing or a particular logo.
  • Uses unusual hand signals to communicate with friends.
  • Has specific drawings or gang symbols on clothes, books, walls or tattoos.
  • Withdraws from family.
  • Declining school attendance, performance.
  • Has unexplained cash or goods (clothing, jewelry).

According to the National Gang Center <>, three out of every five gang members are adults, and smaller cities and rural counties are more likely to report juvenile gang members.

According to the Chicago Sun-Times <>, authorities can obtain search warrants to dig through a suspect's social media site and build a criminal case. Authorities have caught young thugs bragging about their crimes on Facebook and Twitter. <> reports that gangs use social media as a recruiting tool by making their pages attractive to new people or friends of friends.

According to the Texas Youth Commission, gang-style clothing is just as, if not more dangerous if worn by non-gang members.

Copyright 2012 America Now. All rights reserved.

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