February 24, 2006
Several local organizations are helping the Charlottesville area fight against gangs by sponsoring a Gang Identification and Preventions Forum. The event took place at the Monticello Event and Conference Center.
Even though Charlottesville is known as one of the most beautiful places to live, it has not kept gangs out of our area. Tonight local members of the community took a stand. A gang member could live next door to you and you not even know it.
"It is an 'infection,' and it is a real law enforcement problem," said one speaker.
According the local authorities, both in Albemarle County and Charlottesville, there are gangs in the area. That's what motivated several parents like Joetta Wright to attend Thursday night's forum.
"I want to gather as much information as I can as a parent, so that I can educate [my 15-year-old son] and sort of deter him at this early age," said parent Joetta Wright
Educating kids at an early age is what is suggested to make younger children more aware of the ongoing problem. Getting them involved with after school activities is also a suggested deterrent, but some people say there isn't enough money provided to programs that could adequately provide services to kids after school.
Juvenile Justice Coordinator Rory Carpenter says, "Raising the awareness amongst citizens about the possibility of gangs in our community and more importantly, helping to prevent our children from getting involved in those gangs."
"[Tonight forum will give parents] tools to look for if they start seeing anti-social behavior from their children, just noticing different behaviors that are out of the normal for their kids," added Darrell Byers from Albemarle County Police Department.
Panel members informed those who attended the forum about gang tattoos, hand signs, and even clothes and colors gang members may wear, but organizers say using just a few of these identifiers are not a clear ways to identify gang members.
"I don't think you can look at one factor and isolation and determine if someone is a gang member. In fact, even law enforcement doesn't do that," said James Towey, Attorney General's Office.
Organizers say they hope that those who attended tonight's event walked away more aware.
What's There To Do After School?
Project Discovery - 434-295-3171 (For Charlottesville and Albemarle youth, ages 8 - 17, at or below poverty level.)
Washington Park Rec Center: 434-970-5073 (Mon-Fri, 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.)
Upward Bound Program: 434-982-4551 (For low income high school student aged 15-18 whose parents have not received a bachelor degree. Open Saturday 9 a.m. - 1 p.m.)