Forum addresses gang activity

Published 12:00 am Friday, March 30, 2007

AHOSKIE – Approximately 100 Hertford County residents gathered Thursday evening to learn more about the growing problem of gangs in the region.

Hertford County Sheriff Juan Vaughan, Ahoskie Police Chief Troy Fitzhugh, Murfreesboro Police Chief Darrell Rowe and Hertford County Public Schools Security Chief Curtis Freeman organized the event to try to make parents more aware of gang-related behavior.

“What we have is wanna-bes,” Freeman said “If we don’t get control of them, they are gonna-bes.”

Freeman introduced Eddie Buffaloe Jr., who spoke for nearly an hour to enlighten parents about the gang culture.

“If you’ve got wanna-bes, you’re going to have a problem if you don’t do something,” Buffaloe said.

He defined a gang as a group of three or more people that share common signs or colors and commit crimes. He said most gang members were between 12 and 24 years old.

Buffaloe said there were several kinds of gangs. They include traditional gangs, business/profit gangs, white hate gangs, copy cat gangs and delinquent social gangs.

He also talked about how certain gangs would identify with a number, color or side of the body.

“One in 10 of your wanna-bes are real,” he said. “They are migrating to rural areas.”

According to his statistics, in 1999 there were 332 known gangs in North Carolina with 5,000 members. By 2004 that number had grown to 387 with 8,000 members.

“Are your children at risk? Yes,” he said.

Some of the signs Buffaloe suggested parents look for included:

* graffiti on folders, desks and walls;

* developing a bad attitude towards family, school and authority;

* having more money or possessions;

* staying out later;

* carrying weapons;

* withdrawing from family activities; and

* changing friends.

Buffaloe did caution that all graffiti is not gang graffiti. He said there was what is called tagger graffiti which is more artistic and not related to gangs.

He said parents should be a positive role model, do everything they can to be involved with their children, get to know their children and their friends, set limits and not allow children to wear gang-style clothes.

District Attorney Valerie Mitchell Asbell said she was concerned about the growing gang problem and that it had already affected Ahoskie.

“If we don’t have full-blooded gang members right here, we will,” she said.

She also said there was pending litigation to attach a gang enhancement to sentences given for crimes. She said she was fully supportive of the provision and would enforce it if it passed.

“You need to know who your children hang out with,” she said. “You need to love them enough they’ll come to you for that respect.”

She offered the assistance of her office for any parents who needed them.

Fitzhugh said he was seeking the help of the public, especially to take down graffiti as it went up.

“We need to work together to eliminate crimes going on right here in Hertford County,” he said. “I need your support.”

He also said the group was trying to be proactive to stop the gang problem before it took root.

Rowe insisted that the problem was spread throughout Hertford County and that as such it would take the entire community to deal with it.

“We have a limited number of police officers and deputy sheriffs,” he said. “You have to help us. I don’t need your name. I need your information.

“Everybody in the county has to work together,” he closed.

The sheriff said he was grateful for everyone who took the time to learn about gangs and said he had learned much himself.

“Someone’s child is going to get killed or hurt if we don’t do something about this,” he said. “We need to educate parents and grandparents now.”

Hertford County Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Michael G. Basham and Hertford County High School Principal Jerry Simmons pledged their support to working together and said they were appreciative of all who attended the seminar.

In closing, Freeman urged people to, “Let’s be vigilant. Let’s call in.”