(Midlands) November 6, 2006 - These have been violent days in our area. One of the biggest crime problems in the past few years has been the growth of gangs. They are in our neighborhoods, our schools, our families.
WIS is taking an honest and sometimes graphic look at local gang members. We think it's important for parents, families and neighbors to be able recognize the signs and take action.
We're not using the gang members' real names.
One gang member, "Fat Daddy," tells WIS how you start as a gang member, "You get in the center of the circle. It's you and the highest ranking six people in that set and they stack you up, put the knowledge on you, bless you. Then once they say go, you scrap for your life cause they gone beat you like you just any other n..."
Craig: "How do girls get in the gang?
KP: "They can get beat down by a bunch of girls or they can take the hard way."
Craig: "What's the hard way?"
KP: "You get sexed in. You gotta ... six dudes."
Some girls like the 17-year-old we're calling Katie aren't sexed in or beat in, but "blessed" in. That's when gang leaders let you in in if you commit a certain type of crime, "You can do robberies. You can do shootings. You can sell drugs, anything to put work in."
"It started when I was in the sixth grade, when I was at Sanders. I wore the color red and a group of people, Crips, came up and approached me and said I was a gang member, I was a Blood. So then I realized I'm by myself. I need somebody with me or whatever, so then I decided I'm not wearing red again. That's when I became a Folk."
"How did you end up in a gang?" Craig asked KP. "I don't know. I used to always get into trouble."
In fact, all four say they've gotten into trouble since they can remember. All four have been kicked out of a school at some point, "I've been arrested seven times."
Not all gang bangers are black kids from broken homes. J lives with mom and dad, "I got adopted, so I moved down here with my adopted parents and then my older brother is kind of involved so I got involved and I just do everything they do."
She says her brother is a Crip.
One 18-year-old we're calling Fat Daddy says family brought him into the fold too, and at an early age. "Since I was about 12. They put me down ... my brother and a bunch of his other n... ... because I asked to get down."
For some, being "down" is about an elaborate handshake they'll readily demonstrate, tattoos, and the graffiti.
The hand-shaking, tat sporting, sign-spraying bangers aren't the ones worrying Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, "Well, the first group is a group of kids that get together and hang out, the groups we are talking about are the groups that are going out and shooting and robbing people. That's the ones that we're looking at, and that's where we're seeing the growth."
An 18-year-old we're calling Busta could be the poster-boy for that second group. We talked to him right after his arrest on a weapons charge. He says it started in the fourth grade when teachers discovered something. "I've got a learning disability. I'm kind of slow."
Busta: I get frustrated too easily. I used to play sports, but I gave up on it.
Busta: Cause I started smoking.
Craig: You started smoking weed?
Busta: Pretty much.
Craig: When did you start smoking weed?
Busta: Sixth grade.
He got kicked out of school last year, "I was fighting every time I'd go to school."
He says he was fighting "Slobs."
"Who?" Craig asked again. Busta said, "Bloods."
Busta is a high-ranking member of Folk Nation. He can't read and is in jail with a rap sheet three pages long including several other weapons charges, simple assault, and assault and battery with intent to kill.
What set him off? "They disrespected me. I don't like people disrespecting."
Everyone we talked to say that's what gang banging is all about. "Respect. We're fighting over respect."
"If anybody disrespects us, we're going to retaliate."
Fat Daddy: You tag your spot. Put your set on their spot.
Fat Daddy: If they disrespect your spot, you get to bang on 'em.
Fat Daddy: What do you mean why? That's like two dogs. If a dog crosses into another dog's territory, they gone fight.
Sometimes it's over territory. Sometimes it's over their sacred greeting. Fat Daddy explains, "Say two Crips is walking down the hall and there's a Blood, Crips do their handshake and throw Bs down. That's disrespect right there in front of a dude."
Even a rival gang member saying certain words is considered disrespectful.
Busta: Like they'll say a word I don't like.
Craig: What's a word you wouldn't like?
Busta: I can't say because I don't want to disrespect myself.
Craig: Give me an example of a word.
Busta: It's something ya'll eat when ya'll drink coffee.
Legend has it the Folk Nation founder was killed in a doughnut shop in the early 70s. The concept of fighting over disrespect might sound silly, but it's turned deadly.
Prosecutors say Chris Liverman killed two children while trying to shoot at rival gang members who had disrespected his gang.
Cornelius Williams, 21, is in jail on a $3.5 million bond. Investigators say he shot two people outside Williams-Brice Stadium at this year's Capital City Classic football game "as a result of two gangs reportedly disrespecting one another."
"As long as no one disrespects me, I'm on chill mode," one girl told Craig. Craig asked, "If I found your mother and said your daughter is in a gang, would she be surprised?"
She replied, "Yeah."
We found her mother. She was surprised>>
Reported by Craig Melvin