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School, law enforcement personnel attend anti-gang conference in Shepherdstown

October 24, 2008|By DAVE McMILLION

SHEPHERDSTOWN, W.Va. -- Violent street gangs continue to grow across the country and about 170 police officers, school administrators and others attended a two-day conference at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife's National Conservation Training Center this week to learn how to combat the problem locally, officials said Thursday.

The conference held Wednesday and Thursday at the center along Shepherd Grade Road north of Shepherdstown was sponsored by the U.S. Attorney's Project Safe Neighborhood, U.S. Attorney Sharon Potter said.

A large anti-gang conference was held for police in 2005 in Berkeley County and officials said at the time they were seeing graffiti associated with gangs in Jefferson County and gangs had been meeting in the county.

The MS-13 gang has become an international threat and other gangs like Trinitarios have been gaining momentum, said Ron "Cook" Barrett, a gang prevention specialist with the Albany (N.Y.) Police Department who spoke at the conference Thursday.

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Women are starting to join gangs and the problem is exacerbated by music and movie media which glamorize gangs, and in-turn, influence kids, Barrett said.

Barrett listed off a number of gang-related movies, like "Life from Da Gutter," a documentary about lives of West Coast rappers.

"These are DVDs you can buy at Wal-Mart, folks. $19.95. It's being force fed to us," Barrett said.

Barrett showed gruesome scenes of gang crime across the country.

Jim Holland, principal of Musselman Middle School in Berkeley County, was one of several school administrators attending Thursday's conference.

Holland said school officials have noticed a growing influence of gang activity in southern Berkeley County, like gang-associated clothing.

Holland said a popular song was played at a welcome-back dance at Musselman Middle School in mid-September and no adults had any idea there was a possible gang connection. Students in the crowd starting using mannerisms associated with gangs when the song was played, Holland said.

"I'm going, 'Whoa.' That will never be played at a dance again," Holland said.

Barrett said it is important for school administrators to start turning kids away from gang influence before it manifests itself.

Greg Kesner, a school resource officer in Hampshire County, said kids are taking pictures of each other showing gang signs and then posting the pictures on the Internet. Hampshire County is next to Morgan County.

Barrett warned officials that the Internet is a key place for kids to learn about gangs.

A child may be proud to show a parent about a nice page the kid put on MySpace, Barrett said.

"They got four other pages you don't know about," Barrett said.

Barrett attempted to familiarize school administrators with gang symbols so they will know when to take action if they see them.

Symbols included the number '88,' a reference to Adolph Hitler or "GKB," which stands for Gangster Killing Blood, Barrett said.

Barrett held up a popular selling T-shirt which read "Stop Snitching," a reference to gang members' attempt to prevent witnesses to gang crimes from reporting the incidents to police.

"The culture has gotten stronger," Barrett said.

Fighting gangs



According to gang prevention specialist Ron "Cook" Barrett, here's what communities can do to slow gangs:

o For school suspensions, do not send kids home, where they are free to go to other areas and get in trouble. Set up in-school suspensions instead.

o Increase opportunities for kids and get other organizations involved, like churches and ministers, YMCAs and Boys & Girls clubs.

o Convince parents to attend Parent Teacher Association meetings to talk about the problem. Barrett said he lures parents to the meetings by giving away things.

o Assess school buildings for gang graffiti and remove it quickly.

o Learn more at www.nysgangprevention.com

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