TIPTON COUNTY, Tenn. — Gangs have been a big issue in Memphis for decades, but now some communities you’d least expect are grappling with gangs. The reason: more children are joining in.
“It doesn’t matter if you are inner-city or rural county in the farm country, whereever you live, gangs are there,” said Lt. John Weatherly with Tipton County Sheriff’s Office. “We have 36 identified gangs and over 1,600 identified gang members. That doesn`t include all the ones in the school system.”
In recent years, Tipton County deputies said gangs started targeting more and more children within high schools and even middle schools.
“We have actually seen gang activity since the ‘90s and have tried to track it efficiently as we can,” said Chief Deputy Shannon Beasley. “Mid- to late teens are more of your more violent (gang members). They think they have something to prove.”
He said it’s led to fights, peddling guns and drugs, drive-by shootings and even murders.
It has him and other deputies amping up their efforts to stop it.
“We try to help train during teachers’ in-services. We are often asked to come in and talk about what we are seeing with the gang culture and what`s going on,” said Beasley.
In exchange, teachers and staff let the sheriff’s office know what they are seeing.
“We want to know what those kids are doing during school and who they are talking to. It’s a two-way street as far as education,” said Beasley.
A battle in Tipton County that seems to be spreading all over.
“This is serious. You look at Clarksdale, Mississippi, Holly Springs, Mississippi, Jackson, Tennessee. All these suburban communities around Memphis are on fire right now because of this gang life,” said Delvin Lane.
He is a former gang member and is now working with 901 B.L.O.C. Squad, a group trying to stop youth gun violence through outreach and intervention.
“It’s at least 10 years in the making. What you have kids moving out, Section 8 vouchers and stuff like that,” he said. “They go live with a relative say, in Germantown.”
Lane said every major gang in the inner-city is now in a suburban or rural area.
“The kids in the suburbs are what we call our quote/unquote good kids. They have to prove to society that they are who they say they are,” he said.
He said another reason these gangs have spread is because they’ve become glorified in music and on social media.
“A lot of the kids look at gangs as being a fad or something fun,” he said.
Some rural counties report the same findings as the inner city — that gangs are targeting kids as young as 11 years old. Once a child affiliates with a gang, their chances increase of winding up in a violent situation or in jail.
“I don’t care if you’re in Germantown, Cordova, Collierville, Tipton County, Olive Branch. Gangs are there,” said Shelby County Schools Safety Manager Ronald Pope.
He said his team is in every part of the district as they try to reach to kids before it’s too late.
“Before you know it, they`ve gone too far to step back from it. What my staff do in the community is make sure kids know they have a place to go,” he explained.
Similar work continues in Tipton County. Authorities there said they will continue to work in the schools to stop gang activity that seems to have no end.
“For every gang member we know about, there are three more we don’t,” said Weatherly.
Authorities all agree parents need to be nosy. They suggest going through their kids’ phones and social media pages and look for signs like your child wearing the same color every day, flashing hand signs and abandoning school work.
Here are more suggestions for parents : http://www.gangfree.org/gangs_child.html