(Midlands) November 8, 2006 - Gangs have changed and so have some of those signs. What should parents should be looking for and how can you get your kid out of a gang - or prevent them from joining? WIS' Craig Melvin looked for answers to those questions.
KP, 21, finally just gave in, "I was at Ridgeview and one of my boys had been trying to get me down for the longest."
Katie also goes to Ridgeview High School.
Craig: Have you ever taken a gun into school?
Craig: For what?
Katie: For protection. If I hear someone is supposed to come after me, I bring what I need to protect me and I'm going to do what I got to do."
Ridgeview wouldn't allow us on campus or talk to us on camera, but they did issue a statement saying, "We've had knives and weapons on our campus, but they've been dealt with in accordance with our zero tolerance policy. We do not tolerate gang activity."
Sheriff Leon Lott says the school administrators "work closely with the student resource officer and have given gang education to everyone who works at the school from the custodians on up to the principal."
Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott says there are gang members at Ridgeview and every other high school in Richland County, "It's throughout Columbia, throughout the Midlands. It's all over, no matter what high school or middle school you go to, no matter what neighborhood, they are here. They are all over the place," including Friday night football.
At a recent high school game, Richland County gang investigator Chandra Cleveland pointed out gang activity in the stands. Gang members like Bobby came to sport their colors.
Craig: I'm assuming based on your ensemble, you're in Folk Nation.
Bobby: I'm Blood.
Craig: No red?
Bobby: We don't wear red cause cops are out looking.
Something else is changing as well, according to the gang members Craig spoke with, "... I've shot at people before."
Gang member: Like after games and stuff. High school events.
Once upon a time, gang members had to shoot someone to get promoted inside the gang. Now, law enforcement says many just have to shoot at people.
"Well, there is your drive-by shooting where you don't know if you're going to actually hit somebody or not," says Sheriff Leon Lott. "They tend to get some credibility with that."
How they get credibility has changed along with how they communicate. Some use MySpace and other social networking sites. WIS found page after page on the popular social networking site of gang bangers or "wannabes" posing and communicating.
In August, deputies arrested 18 people who they say were gang members planning an attack - and they used some of the pictures posted on MySpace in the investigation.
Lamont knows his teenage son is in a gang and has shot at people. He partly blames the website, "that MySpace and all that crap."
Craig asks Lamont, "Could you have done more to prevent all this from happening?"
"If I had known it was starting," he responds, "I sure should've."
Investigators say parents can prevent their children from joining by closely watching what they do on the computer. Parents should also look for certain signs like a sudden change in behavior, a sharp drop in grades, new friends, or wearing a certain color all the time. Sheriff Lott stresses prevention, "I always say it's easier to keep them from getting in, than to get them out, but you can get them out."
Gang Out has been helping kids get out of gangs for years. A.V. Strong runs the group, "We've really hammered out the message that we have a problem. Now we need to start talking about solutions."
"We've got to provide an outlet for them. You'd be surprised how many people come in here and say, 'I want to get out, but I don't have a place to go.'"
Strong says his group provides that place, and that's one solution, but the best solution is "mentoring. Most of these people that we deal with don't have any mentors in their life. There's absent fathers, mothers working two or three jobs trying to make a living. You've got a lot of kids left unsupervised."
Strong, Lott, and others Craig talked to say while getting out of a gang is extremely difficult, step one is wanting out. Many of the kids we talked to aren't there yet, telling Craig, "I'm in too deep to get out now. It's really no getting out."
"I don't feel like I belong at home. I feel like I belong on the streets."
None said they planned on getting out soon, "We all got to die some day. What's the point of being afraid?"
Reported by Craig Melvin