On the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Campus, gangs are not an active problem. However, on the outskirts of the campus gang activity does exists. At this time, our patrol officers have a very good line of communications with these gang members. We have earned their respect by simply treating them like any other citizen, and not talking down to them. This rapport helps us gather valuable intelligence for the Oklahoma City Police Department Gang Enforcement Unit, and keeps our buildings from being victimized by graffiti, and other activities.
Gangs are not a new phenomenon in America. Cities have had to deal with gang-related problems since the late 18th century. In recent years the popularity of gangs has brought community unrest in areas never before exposed to this type of problem. Today, children as young as 9 and 10 years of age are lured into gangs and commit acts of violence once associated with much older, street wise troublemakers. With a little knowledge and understanding of the gang phenomenon, adults may help stem the tide of gang affiliation and its natural results: disrespect, disruption in school, and a vicious cycle of community violence.
A street gang is defined as an ongoing association of three or more persons, be it formal or informal, who have common signs, colors, or symbols and members or associates who individually or collectively engage in or have engaged in criminal activity.
Reasons for Joining a Gang
- Friendship or brotherhood
- Attention, a feeling of belonging
- Protection from rival gangs
- Excitement in gang activities and affiliation
- Intimidation by the dominant gang in the area of home or school.
- Glorification of the gang lifestyle in the media
Youth with low self-esteem, physically or emotionally inferior, loaners, or youth looking for thrills are all potential candidates for gang involvement. Gang involvement is not restricted by race, ethnic background, religious beliefs, or income class of the family. Any child may be attracted to the gang lifestyle.
Signs of Gang Involvement
The most important step is to become aware of gangs, gang members, and gang activities. As a parent or concerned citizen, you need to know that prevention is the key to controlling gang activity. Learning the warning signs of gang membership will prepare you to better direct your children away form gang involvement.
The indicators listed below do not indicate gang involvement when viewed separately. While viewed together they may indicate gang involvement. If you see some of these indicators in your child do not over react. Contact your local law enforcement agency gang enforcement officer and ask for more information. For University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center Campus faculty, staff and students, contact Lieutenant Jim Martin, at the OU HSC Police Department, Extension 1-4300.
- Changing friends: associating with new friends while ignoring their old friends. Will not talk about their friends or introduce them to parents. Will be vague about where they are going and with whom.
- Change in attitude: no longer interested in family activities or their old interest. Youth becomes a discipline problem at school, or at home.
- Decline in school: interest in school and school related activities decline. School work starts to suffer and grades fall.
- Changes in appearance: changes of hairstyle and/or clothing. Associating with youths who have the same hairstyle or clothing. Adds or deletes a primary color (red, blue, or black) in their wardrobe.
- Material possessions: increased amounts of money with no explanation of were it came from. Other possessions that they could not have bought by themselves.
- Personal graffiti: draws or paints different signs or symbols in their room, or on school or personal papers. Has letters with foreign signs or symbols used in them.
- Drug abuse: signs of drug, alcohol or inhalant use.
If several of the indicators are found in your youth, then there is an indication that your youth may be involved in a gang. As a parent, you may want to search your youths room or vehicle for weapons or drugs. This is not a violation of your childs privacy; it is an act that may protect the whole family.
Gang Involvement Prevention
- Know your childs friends; invite them into your home. Get to know them, they will have a lot of influence on your child. Meet their parents.
- When your children go out, know where they are going. Who they are going with. How they are going and what time to expect them home.
- Set rules and limits and enforce them. Young people need limits in their lives. Children can use the excuse "my parents said no" to their benefit when they are asked to go somewhere they do not want to go or do something they do not want to do.
- Talk to teachers and counselors at school: get involved with the people that educate your child. Join the PTA and attend school functions.
- Be aware of radical changes in attitudes, behavior, friends, and dress. Noticing these changes will alert parents to their childs possible interests in gangs.
- Encourage hobbies and sports, or other out-of-school interests: all children need to belong and feel they are part of something. Spark your childs interest in group activities in your city. Don't accept the excuse that there is nothing to do.
The most important thing a parent can do: Get Involved in your childs life. Make them feel loved and that they belong. Don't be afraid to talk to your child. Explain the pitfalls that await them out in the real world.