Real gang members do not hang around on street corners in large groups, collectively clad in blue or red, calling attention to themselves, said Detective Tony Gomez of the Union City Police Department, who led a third Union City seminar on gangs Nov. 10 at Roosevelt School.
The seminar was the third in a series by Union City to address gang activity in the city’s neighborhoods and to educate residents about how to prevent or reduce gang activity.
Gangs in UC
“We do have gang members that live in Union City. It’s better that we recognize that,” Union City Mayor Stack said during the seminar on Nov. 10.
To best suppress gang activity in the city, Gomez called upon residents to look out for one another and to call the police if they suspect any wrongdoing.
“We do have gang members that live in Union City. It’s better that we recognize that.” – Mayor Stack
He held up his cell phone and said, “My office is here,” demonstrating to residents that they could reach him at any time with concerns.
Questions and answers
In the Q and A portion of the meeting, one resident raised concerns about gang behavior such as the trafficking of women.
“We don’t have some of those problems,” Union City Police Chief Charles Everett responded. “We have to know the difference between what’s going on here and what’s going on outside. There is not one monolithic gang problem.”
Identifying gang membership
During the meeting, Gomez explained to the audience behavior common to all gang members as well as common identifiers of different gangs.
In general, gangs are inherently violent and retaliatory, are defiant toward authority, and are extremely territorial, he said. They tend to be involved in weapons possession, weapons use, murder for hire, drug distribution, burglary and theft, bank fraud, and assault and intimidation. Also, certain colors, clothes, graffiti, tattoos, hand signs, and language apply to each gang.
Gomez assured the audience that gangs typically engage in conflict with other gangs and “typically, people who live in the neighborhood will not have any violent contact with gang members.”
He said that residents’ ability to identify different gangs is helpful to themselves and the community. But Gomez warned for the audience to not get too caught up over the details, posing the question: If you see someone with a red shirt, a black hat, and a pit bull, does that immediately mark that person as a Blood? “No,” Gomez said. “He’s just a guy with a red shirt and a black hat walking a pit bull. Don’t get crazy.”
According to Gomez, sports apparel factors into gang identification, with the logos and colors used to retrofit the gang. The Latin Kings, for example, tend to wear Pittsburgh Steelers gear because it goes along with their black and gold coloring.
“It’s easier than having a jacket made,” Gomez said.
Getting parents involved
A combination of influences may lead children to partake of gang activity. Bad kids do not always come from bad families, according to Everett, but good parenting can keep children on the right side of the law.
Gomez spoke of the susceptibly of youths to peer pressure due to low self-esteem and lack of knowledge.
“The gangs are selling your sons and daughters fantasy. The reality is that all they’re going to be giving your son or daughter is a hospital bed, the cemetery, or jail,” Gomez said.
Just as Union City advocates “zero tolerance” toward gangs, so too should parents in the home, according to Gomez.
Mayor Stack reiterated this sentiment. “You know where education starts? It starts in the home.”
When it comes to their child’s formal education, parents can attend parent-teacher meters to keep abreast of their child’s progress and learn of any warning signs their child displays outside of the home, such as change of behavior, dropping grades, and truancy.
After-school recreation programs are offered, and, according to Stack, he and Everett are also working on a self-defense class for the community.
But one of the best things residents can do, according to Stack, is to look out for one another. He stressed his happiness with the turnout on Wednesday, stating, “Most important is the people that come [to these meetings], and most people don’t have that…We need to spread the word to the rest of the community.”
One woman in the audience called for parents to take the initiative and start a Guardian Angel-type organization to look out for the children of others, stating that the “parents should give back to the city that has done so much for them.”
“The more information you have, the more you help the police department, the more you help the community to move forward,” Stack said.
Deanna Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.