(Midlands) November 7, 2006 - In "Disrespect and gang violence," you heard from Midlands gang members talking about what they do and how they got in. What they had to say was disturbing and sometimes ridiculous, but it was real. While working on this story, WIS' Craig Melvin asked the same question many of you probably are asking: What about the parents?
So Craig talked to some. We're not using those parents' or the gang members' real names.
Katie says she's been in a gang since middle school.
Craig: So you have shot someone before?
Katie: Nah, I've shot at people before.
Katie: Like after games and stuff, high school events.
"My mom really don't know," she says.
So Craig told Katie's mom, "I work for WIS news. I'm working on a series of stories on gangs. Did you know your daughter is in a gang?"
"Um, I personally didn't know my child was in a gang and to my knowledge, she's not now."
Katie's mom admits her daughter has gotten into some trouble, "The trouble she had got into didn't strike me as a warning sign. I felt like when she went from elementary school to middle school, she was trying to fit in."
According to documents we obtained, in middle school, Katie took a knife to school, threatened to kill a teacher and blow up his family.
In high school, she's been in fights and run away from home. And Katie's mom says her daughter has been arrested, "One day we were at the probation officer's office and he asked her to pull up her sleeve, so she pulled up her sleeve and there was something, some kind of symbol there and he said that was a sign for gang members and I didn't even know it was there."
Craig asked, "At that point, did you say maybe there's a chance she could be in a gang?"
But Katie's mom said, "You want to believe your child."
Katie works hard on the lie. She leads a double life, "Like we might switch clothes, parents might be working a busy schedule, and you tell them you're going to work, but you don't actually go to work. You have a change of clothes in the car."
Meanwhile, Lamont says he knows what his 17-year-old son does, "My son has gotten into gang fights. I've taken a pistol from him."
"He's probably shot at somebody."
Investigator Chandra Cleveland says he's definitely shot at rival gang members who live nearby. They've shot back, hitting the back of the house five times in recent months. "They would run across the street, shoot at his house when they see him in the house, see people moving in the yard, and his grandmother is just so scared."
The 17-year-old lives with his grandma, but grew up in Hollywood Hills. That's off Fairfield Road in northern Richland County.
WIS obtained video of a beat in broad daylight at Hollywood Hills, and kids showing off their guns.
"The only thing in Hollywood Hills," says Cleveland, "was drug dealers and gang bangers. So that's what he grew up around? That's where he got into the gang."
Gang members don't all come from bad neighborhoods. Katie's mom lives in a nice house in an affluent neighborhood. The average price of a home in the zip code is $180,000.
Gang members don't all come from broken homes either. KP lives with his family, "My mom, dad, my brother, my sister."
"My brother is on the road to the NBA. My sister is about to be an actor and I'm gangbanging, so there's nothing my parents did wrong."
Fat Daddy says while his parents are separated now, they were together most of his life.
Craig: Does your mother know you're in a gang?
Fat Daddy: Nah.
Craig: How can she not know?
Fat Daddy: I mean I wear blue, my whole room is blue, everything I got is blue.
Sheriff Leon Lott has an idea why some parents miss the signs, "I think that's denial. Not only do we have a community denying it, but also parents denying, not my kid. My child would not get involved with something like that."
"It's someone else's child. They don't want to believe their child is involved with something because if their child is involved in a gang, they're a bad parent."
Sheriff Lott says for parents it's tough because gangs are on the prowl, recruiting, "They go to the malls, football games, the anywhere there are large groups of kids."
Those kids are also finding the gangs.
Gang member: We don't go out. They come to us. They come to us.
Craig: They come to you and say what?
Gang member: I want to get down.
Sometimes they say they "get down" in school, "We can sell drugs in school. It's easy to sell drugs in school."
Craig asks if it's "easy to smuggle guns in school?"
"I've seen Desert Eagles in school. Pistols is nothing. I've seen knives, switch blades."
Wednesday WIS will take a look at what's happening in our high schools. We'll also tell parents what to look for, how to keep their kids from joining gangs, and how to get them out.
Reported by Craig Melvin