Despite what many people think, members of gangs such as the Bloods, the Crips, the Vice Lords and the Black Gangster Disciples are here in Lawrence, two local court services officers say.
And community members must act now to keep the gangs from becoming established and bringing to Lawrence the violence, drugs and drive-by shootings now seen in Kansas City, Wichita and Topeka, the officers said during a gang education forum Tuesday night at the Lawrence Public Library. The meeting was sponsored by Kansas University's department of human resources.
Patricia Henry, a Douglas County juvenile probation officer, and Kevin Johnson, chief court services officer, spoke to a gathering of about 40 people that included teen-agers, parents and group-home coordinators.
"Some of us are hesitant to say our community has a gang problem," Henry said. "Gangs are a community problem. Because whatever activity they become involved in is going to affect each and every one of us."
HENRY SAID that in Lawrence, ``we do not have an established gang."
"We are right on the fringes of evolving into that," she said.
Lawrence police Lt. Mike Hall, who was one of 10 people from the community who attended a recent gang seminar in Georgia, said this morning that Lawrence has an "emerging gang problem," because some youths here are imitating gang actitivity.
"I don't think we have established gangs in Lawrence," Hall said. "To say we have not had gang activity in Lawrence would be misleading. We have seen outside gang influence from Topeka, Kansas City and Wichita. And we have seen some youths imported to our community from some areas that have a gang problem. And some of their activities seem to foster the gang mentality among their peers.
"We are not seeing the turf wars, drive-by shootings, graffiti and street cocaine sales that are associated with established gangs. The majority of what we're seeing are petty crimes. But as a community we need to be aware."
JOHNSON SAID one of the first signs of gang activity is graffiti, which he called ``the newspaper of the streets.''
He said graffiti is used to establish the identity of the gang, to challenge or insult other gangs in the area, to bolster gang members' egos, or to proclaim violent acts, Johnson said.
"When we talk about gang mentality, we're talking about a scary situation," he said, "because the mentality grows faster than the numbers do."
He said young boys who are not in the gang but want to be walk around and flash gang hand signs and mimic the mentality of the gang, he said.
Johnson said some gang members are "hard-core,'' some are "active" and some are peripherally associated with gangs.
"A lot of kids suffer from low self-esteem," he said. "They want to belong to something. We need to find out what we can do to keep them from pressing on into (gangs)."
Johnson and Henry gave parents a "gang banger" test to tell whether their son or daughter might be associating with gangs.
THEY SAID the more of the following traits their son or daughter is exhibiting, the more likely he or she is already associating with gang members or is already a hard-core gang member. The fewer of the following traits exhibited, the less likely their child is involved or is a gang "wanna-be".
Dress: all black, blue or red, or those combinations.
Body: hair in braids or ponytails; tattoos of the street he lives on or teardrop tattoos on his face.
Language: slang terms (such as cuz, blood, homey or O.G.); refusing to write certain letters (Crips won't write Bs and Bloods won't write Cs); constantly using profanity and writing graffiti.
Associates: always having older friends; never letting parents meet friends.
Behavior: staying out late, refusing to say where he or she has been.