Thursday, January 3, 2013

Uptick in Wilmington gang activity linked to bad economy -- at least that's one excuse

Verne Strickland Blogmaster / January 4, 2013

Published: Thursday, January 3, 2013 

The downtrodden economy has fueled an expansion of criminal street gangs in eastern North Carolina, one law enforcement official said Thursday, a troubling trend that renewed calls among school and law enforcement officials for a multifaceted approach for tackling the problem.

"It's increased just because of the general state of the country," said Greg Steffens, a member of the N.C. Gang Investigators Association and a state highway patrolman. "You have parents working so much now to make ends meet that kids are looking for an outlet."
Steffens spoke during a brief interview following the seventh annual Eastern Carolina Gang Conference in Mount Olive, a daylong event that brought together hundreds of law enforcement officers, social workers, teachers and other officials on the front lines of gang prevention.
The discussion Thursday focused on helping parents strengthen familial bonds so youth are less likely to be recruited by a gang.
If relationships between youth and adults are absent, gangs step in and provide youth with what they seek -- bonding, life skills, meaningful participation, Wayne Sakamoto, a gang prevention expert from California.
Sakamoto said in an interview that federal budget cuts have wiped out or greatly curtailed gang prevention programs.
"Schools have lost a lot of funding for any type of prevention or prevention work. That's why we're getting school systems that say, 'We're retrenching. We're going back to what we do, which is academics," Sakamoto said. "And we've lost focus on school safety and prevention."
 Emerging gang problems prompted Wilmington and New Hanover County to form a joint gang task force several years ago. The team of investigators and social workers is charged with not only dismantling gangs but choking off their source of recruitment by finding potential members at an early age.
The task force has documented about 400 active gang members, said Sgt. Curt Stansbury, an officer with the Wilmington Police Department who also serves on the task force. And the city has ramped up programs aimed at dismantling criminal organizations, including one that was recently credited with cleaning up a known drug corner on the North Side.
Despite those efforts, Wilmington is not immune to gang violence.
In January 2011, Corey Guerrero, Taaron Jones and Rashad Williams were stabbed on Market Street during a fight outside the Rhino Club, which authorities forced to shut down following the incident. Jones, a 19-year-old described by investigators as a high-ranking general in the Double II Bloods, died as a result of his injuries.
Police posthumously identified Jones as the gunman responsible for shooting two people in a parking lot on Emory Street in September 2010. One of them, Teshon Lane, 19, was killed.
Gang violence erupted again later that year when a fight between the Bloods and Crips broke out at Club 609, ending with 20-year-old Cornelius Blanks shot dead. Authorities said gang members migrated to Club 609, which the state also shuttered after the episode, following Rhino's closure.