According to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, there are over 96 known gangs in the county and they are creeping their way into the Southwest.
This is why the Finland Middle School PTA is sponsoring a Street Smart gang awareness night.
"We want parents to realize that gangs are everywhere, not just in the inner city," said Denise Diaz, president of the Finland PTA.
Deputy Charlie Brown of the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said gangs are a problem in the Southwest and they are recruiting children as young as 8. He explained that gangs like the Bloods, Crips and MS-13 have a presence in the area and are always looking to expand their membership.
"Gangs utilize young kids because the penalties in our judicial system are much less for children," said Brown. "What’s going to happen to a 10-year-old selling crack?"
Brown said approximately 80 percent of gang members are dead or in prison by the age of 20 and there are even more dangers. Males would usually have to be beaten into the gang of their choice. Females would normally be "sexed" in.
"Sometimes these girls will have to roll a dice and whatever number they get, that is how many times they will be sexually assaulted (by gang members)," Brown explained. "It is very violent."
Despite the dangers, there are many reasons children turn to gangs. Brown said sometimes they get involved in gangs for protection and even for popularity.
"Kids see it as a way to be cool."
Diaz said she started to pay attention to gangs after seeing gang graffiti.
"I see it on buildings and fences," she said. "I think people need to be more aware that these gangs are coming into the suburbs."
Brown said every bit of graffiti means something. It could be a message of where to find drugs or a memorial to another gang member.
Brown, also a DARE deputy, will lead the two-part discussion. He will discuss what kind of gangs are out there and the history of gangs. He plans to teach parents and school staff signs that a child is involved in a gang.
‘The purpose is to educate," he said.
The gang awareness night will take place on Feb. 20 and 27 at Finland Middle School, 1825 Finland Ave., from 6 to 8 p.m. Brown said this will not be the same presentation both nights, it is a free two-part series. For additional information, contact the school at 801-3600.