Despite recent activity, gangs are not a growing problem in Lawrence, according to Police Chief Ron Olin.
In less than three weeks, Lawrence police have investigated three separate incidents which involve actions constituting attempted murder. All three have also involved known gang members.
As police continue to sort out details of the most recent two incidents, a weekend fight that ended in three people being stabbed and Monday night shootings at a car and a house, they are also stressing the events are not related.
"I believe it's a coincidence, and we cannot infer today that (gangs are) a greater problem," in Lawrence, Police Chief Ron Olin said Tuesday.
The recent gang activity began Aug. 21, when Julius Scott Miller, 20, was arrested on attempted murder charges. Miller's trial starts this morning in Douglas County District Court. Police said he was in a carload of armed Lawrence residents who was on its way to a house in town to retaliate for an argument involving two 17-year-old gang members.
Early Sunday morning, three Lawrence teen-agers were stabbed in a melee in which police said involved gang members. Two gangs are identified in court papers. Five juveniles and five adults have been arrested and or charged with various offenses, ranging from aggravated battery to attempted second-degree murder.
Monday night, a car with gang members pulled up to a Cadillac at 19th and Naismith, and more than one of them began shooting at the car. At least 10 shots were fired, but the two occupants of the car were apparently unharmed. About half an hour later, a house in the 1000 block of West 20th was hit with gunfire. A woman was hit, but the bullet had slowed enough and didn't injure her. Olin said the shootings were "a case of bad marksmanship, or we would have had a murder." Two men had been arrested in the shootings as of Tuesday night.
The two recent cases have police working to ensure the situation doesn't grow worse.
"We're always worried about retaliation and always worried about escalation," Olin said. "These last two incidents are no exception."
The police department traditionally balks at releasing specific information on gangs, and who is involved in gangs. Olin did say, however, gang affiliations in Lawrence aren't based upon geographic boundaries or ethnic backgrounds, and that he doesn't believe the problem is growing.
"Members of gangs in the city of Lawrence can come from any race, ethnic group or socio-economic level," Olin said. "They transcend the traditional neighborhood concept, and are a real mix of people. It's very difficult to stereotype when we talk about gang members; it's easier to talk about specific players."
Olin stresses education in the battle against gangs gaining a stronger hold on Lawrence, and the city received national recognition for its "Gangs in Lawrence: A Call to Action." The program featured forums last year, and two more have been scheduled in the near future.
At 1:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at Southwest Junior High School, national speaker Laurence Young will speak on gangs and youth violence. Actor Edward James Olmos will speak on "We're All in the Same Gang" at 7 p.m. Oct. 16 at Free State High School.
"The forums are designed to educate the public," Olin said. "Our experience in the last several years has been that perhaps as many as 50 percent of gang members' parents do not know of their involvement."
Gang members do not "operate in a vacuum," and teachers, parents, peers and others need to be aware of activity that can lead to violence.
"In many cases, what a teacher may see as a confrontation in a classroom may translate into intimidating behavior between students and criminal behavior on the streets."