"It’s scary," said a concerned parent with children in the South-Western City School District. "I pass by these signs all the time and don’t think anything of it."
This was just one of the reactions from community members during a special two-part seminar held at Finland Middle School on Feb. 20 and Feb. 27 about gang awareness.
Deputy Shawn Boyd with the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office said this reaction is quite normal when they give their presentations on gangs, graffiti and violence.
"There is a lot of surprise," he said. "They don’t understand what is going on. It’s like they are going through with blinders on."
Consider the blinders off when parents and school administrators get through the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program. With this program, offered to school districts across Franklin County, comes knowledge about the history of gangs, gangs that are currently in the area, and the things you can do to help curb this trend.
Gangs in the area
"There are over 96 identified gangs in Franklin County," Boyd said. "You have the Deuce Deuce Bloods, the Crips, the Short North Posse, and the East Haven Bloods to name a few."
In reference to the Grove City area, he mentioned a strong presence of the KOC (Kings of the City), Nortenos, Surenos and the gang that is known as the most dangerous in America: Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13.
"In the past few years, MS-13 has made quite a presence in Franklin County, especially on the Westside," Boyd said. "Just think, 10 years ago there were no members. Five years ago there were a dozen, and now there are over 100 members of MS-13 in the area."
There is also the matter of hate groups that were discussed at the seminar put on by the Finland Parent Teacher Association. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), there are over 803 active hate groups in the United States. Ohio is eighth in the nation with 34.
"To me, hate groups are no different from a gang," said Deputy Charley Brown.
The deputies said hate groups, as well as gangs, are targeting the younger generation via music, movies and the Internet.
"These gangs are making tons of money off of the Internet," Brown said.
He used the video game Ethnic Cleansing, put out by the National Alliance as an example. (This video consists of shooting people who are of a different religion or skin color.)
"When this first came out, they sold over 5,000 copies in the first month alone. They have made millions on crap like this," Brown remarked.
He explained that one way to monitor what your child is doing online is by getting monitoring software.
"I would recommend going to getnetwise.com and getting the information needed to monitor their activities," he said. "But I do also suggest telling your spouse about it before you get it."
The deputies say awareness and parental supervision are the keys to keeping gangs out of your lives.
"Gangs are portrayed as a cool lifestyle in the extra trade industry," said Boyd. "You see it in the hip hop culture, on MySpace and in the movie industry."
He said kids often see a gangster movie and feel the need to emulate what they see.
"A lot of these kids don’t have parents telling them ‘This is only entertainment,’" Boyd said. "Putting that message together, along with parental neglect, has a negative influence on their lives, and kids need to have positive influences in their lives."
Girls in gangs
Boyd added that young women also make an impact on the gang culture.
"Girls play such a huge key," he said. "If they continue to join gangs or even date a member, the gangs just get bigger. We need to work on their self esteem to tell them it is not okay to live like that. Without women, gangs would not last two weeks."
There is also a new group that is looking to round up the gang members in the area.
"It’s called PODS," said Brown. "That stands for the Pissed Off Deputy Sheriff’s."
The GREAT program also touched upon something we see everyday – graffiti.
"Graffiti is one of the first indicators of gang activity in the area," Brown said. "Graffiti can be used to mark territory, honor current gang leaders, immortalize deceased gang members and issue challenges to rival gangs."
He pointed out that graffiti can also be used to advertise drug sales.
"For example, if you see a sign on a Dumpster that says ‘Bump Ahead’ – that means they are selling two tenths of a gram of ketamine (also known as an animal tranquilizer). From there, you will be lead to a destination where you can either sell it, or buy it."
Boyd said that "Bump Ahead" has two other meanings as well.
"It can mean taking a bump of a crack pipe, or using cheese. Cheese is a mixture of Tylenol PM, which you can buy for two or three bucks, and Black Tar Heroin."
Another symbol used multi-purposely on property is 420.
"The symbol 420 has at least three meanings," Boyd explained. "There’s the so-called National Marijuana Smoking Day, then the meaning ‘Much Love, My Brother’ and it also acknowledges Adolph Hitler’s birthday."
Boyd suggests reporting graffiti before you paint over it so the peace officers can get documentation on the damaged property and use it for when the tagger is caught.
Again, he stressed awareness when dealing with graffiti on property, and possible gang activity entering your home.
"The biggest thing for parents is to know your child, know their friends and know their friend’s parents," he said. "After all, it only takes one child to take your child away from you."