Standing firm against the punks

Published 9:36 pm Thursday, October 14, 2010

For several months now, readers have been seeing regular updates on the prosecution of a group of gang members on a variety of federal racketeering charges and other crimes related to their gang membership. Eight members of the Bounty Hunter Bloods and Nine Tech Gangsters street gangs were picked up in the spring by law enforcement officers who had been monitoring their activity in Portsmouth, Chesapeake and Suffolk.

The founder and leader of the Bloods gang locally, 28-year-old James Alexander Mack was sentenced earlier this month to life in prison plus 10 years for his crimes. And in federal prison, a life sentence is for life. Others have pleaded guilty and accepted deals giving them at least a chance of being released one day — one day far in the future for most of them.

But the arrests, convictions and sentences represent only the most visible criminal-justice facet of Suffolk’s fight against gang-related crime and violence.

For some time now, Suffolk Commonwealth’s Attorney C. Phillips “Phil” Ferguson has dispatched prosecutors from his office into Suffolk’s middle and high schools to encourage kids to stay away from the gangs that operate in the city, urging them not to allow their lives to be destroyed by getting involved in the street-gang lifestyle.

Members of the Suffolk Police Department’s two neighborhood enforcement teams have made a similar case at schools and have even appeared before civic organizations to warn parents about the dangers their children face. They also give residents information on how gangs operate in Suffolk, how to recognize the warning signs that their kids might be involved with a dangerous crowd and how to keep themselves safe from the street violence associated with gangs.

Finally — and perhaps most encouraging — a community coalition has formed to address the problem of violent crime amongst Suffolk teens. The Community Action Coalition of Suffolk has been working largely behind the scenes since August to come up with some solutions to the problems that help some Suffolk teens choose to follow a path that leads to destruction — and sometimes death. The organization made its first public presentation during the Suffolk School Board meeting on Thursday.

Arrests and convictions and long prison sentences send a clear message to criminals in the community: Neither the law enforcement nor the judicial communities will stand idly by and allow communities to be destroyed.

And now that average citizens have joined the fight, another message should be clear in Suffolk: Folks around here care about what happens to their hometown, and they’re willing to take a stand against the hoodlums who would ruin their neighborhoods and destroy their children.

It’s really not a good time to be a punk in Suffolk.