Students learn about gang activities

Published 9:49 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Although they may not have understood the significance of what they were seeing, many students at King’s Fork Middle School have grown up seeing graffiti and even hearing the street slang term “chopper.”

Many of them know that “chopper” is the street term for an AK-47 and that graffiti often has something to do with gangs.

On Monday, they got a bit of a perspective on just how dangerous and destructive those gangs are to their neighborhoods.

Representatives from Suffolk’s commonwealth attorney’s office and the Suffolk Police Department’s Neighborhood Enforcement Team tried to help students acquire that perspective during one of a series of programs scheduled and designed for middle-school students.

“When they put the picture of the AK-47 up on the projection screen, you had a ton of kids throw up their hands and call out the street name for it – a chopper,” said Skip Williams, a teacher at King’s Fork. “They’ve seen graffiti but didn’t know what it was, too.”

The two departments have joined forces to educate middle school students about gang activity in Suffolk and their vulnerability as teenagers.

“At their age, they’re at a crossroads,” said Sergeant Tim Cooper. “This is when they’re deciding what to do. They’re much more easily influenced at this age, which is why gangs target them for recruitment, and why we are talking to them about what not to do.”

The session included presentations from the commonwealth’s attorney’s office and the Neighborhood Enforcement Team, with members from each telling students what they see in their respective jobs.

“We realize the two entities deal so closely with one another that a presentation is not complete without both sides,” Jim Wiser, deputy commonwealth attorney, said last week. “We finally decided to link up and join forces to give a joint presentation.”

Students heard from Susan Walton, senior assistant at the commonwealth attorney’s office, about how gang members are prosecuted and the consequences of being in a gang.

“You will either end up in prison, dead or injured,” Walton said. “You don’t see old gang members, because that’s the reality.”

She also talked about the reality of teenagers their age being recruited into a gang by giving real examples, such as that of a 15-year-old girl who was part of a gang and present when a boy was beaten to death. The girl’s activity with the gang and prior knowledge of the crime made her partially liable for the death, and “she was sentenced to 32 years in prison,” Walton said.

Cooper also showed students some of the guns, signs, tattoos and graffiti used by Suffolk gangs and described areas where gangs are known to be active in Suffolk.

A map of downtown Suffolk showed the students seven red areas denoting one gang’s area, three blue areas denoting another’s and two yellow areas denoting other gang activity. On a map of North Suffolk, students were also shown two neighborhoods where gangs are active.

But gangs aren’t just in their neighborhoods, the speakers warned the kids.

“We know there are (members of) gangs at every school in Suffolk,” Cooper said. “We know and are aware of that.”

“Think about things before you do them,” Cooper said.

“It’s a lot easier to stay out of a gang than to get out of a gang,” Walton echoed.

John F. Kenney Middle School will have similar presentations on March 12.