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Archive for Sunday, September 8, 1996

SUMMIT TO FIND SOLUTIONS TO GROWING GANG PROBLEM

September 8, 1996

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Local leaders are planning a community summit and presentation on the spread of gang activity in the Lawrence area.

As far as Oscar Moreno can tell, gangs are here to stay.

Moreno, a local probation officer who deals with gang members on a daily basis, said 400 students at Lawrence High School alone are actively involved with a gang.

And four gang-related shootings this year in Lawrence, resulting in one injury, could be a harbinger of things to come.

The dilemma, he said, is how best to set the limits that could stop the proliferation of gangs.

"We all have to fight it," Moreno said. "We all have to fight it together."

To that end, area leaders will present "Gangs in Lawrence, A Call to Action" Sept. 18 at Southwest Junior High School.

The program will feature law enforcement, judicial and school officials on the front lines of the battle against gang activity.

Program sponsor Jerry Wells, former Douglas County district attorney, said the event is free and will likely be the first in a series.

"It's designed to give out as much practical information as possible about the structure, the make-up, of gangs," said Wells, general counsel of the state's Koch Crime Commission, which evaluates the criminal justice system.

District Judge Jean Shepherd, Lawrence Police Chief Ron Olin, Juvenile Prosecutor Shelly Diehl, East Heights Elementary principal Climetine Clayburn, Central Junior High principal Ted Juneau, and Lawrence High assistant principal Dick Patterson will make presentations.

Parents and others in attendance can learn how to identify possible gang activity through examples of dress, colors and tattoos, and through videotape footage and talks by police and local experts.

Patterson said he plans to focus on keeping children safe but keeping the problem in perspective.

"We have gang members in our school, but we don't tolerate violence," Patterson said. "School educates youth, and unfortunately, we have to expel those who are there to distract from school."

He said the vast majority of youth in Lawrence are good, civic-minded students and people.

"Seven percent of the kids are causing 70 percent of the problems," Patterson said. "We need to prevent that 7 percent from growing -- we can't save all youth."

With the opening of the new Free State High School less than a year away, Patterson said it is a "critical time" for high school students.

The split, and resulting smaller student bodies, may produce more of a sense of belonging, he said. It could also produce dangerous rifts.

"Rivalries, as long as they are in the spirit of sportsmanship, are positive," Patterson said. "If it's gangs, that could create disastrous results."

Diehl said the community is well equipped to deal with gang-related issues.

Schools, city parks and recreation, churches, law enforcement, "everybody is ready to take a stand," Diehl said. "I have great expectations."

Moreno said community involvement is key to handling gangs.

The public should report anything that appears to be a crime. Gang graffiti serves as a "newspaper" for rival groups and should be watched, he said.

"Keep an eye on crack houses, marijuana use," Moreno said. "Keep track of where your kids are, who they're hanging out with."

He said typical attempts to classify gang members and "wannabes" are useless. Especially if both hang out together.

"If you're saggin', wearing baggy clothes, and if you're flaggin', wearing colors, you're a gang banger," Moreno said. "If there's a drive-by, you're there. You're going to get your butt shot."

All four gang-related shootings in Lawrence this year involved some Topeka gang members. Groups here often affiliate with groups there, and will call for help if they need it, he said, because Lawrence is becoming prime real estate.

"It's a big market for drugs, it's a big market for alcohol," Moreno said. "It's a battleground, and they're trying to take control of that."

Immediate, city-wide awareness is vital, he added, because the problems are here.

"It's too bad that we had to go through a drive-by, or more than one, to go through this movement," he said.

Sponsors of the presentation include the City of Lawrence, area Chamber of Commerce, Ecumenical Fellowship, Koch Crime Commission, Lawrence Alliance, The Lawrence Journal-World, Lawrence Ministerial Alliance, Lawrence Police Department, Lawrence Public Schools, Mayor's Youth Advisory Council, Project Freedom, Project Phoenix, Douglas County Sheriff's Department, Sunflower Cablevision and KLWN-KLZR Radio.

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