Gangs at Army installation are topic of heated debate
OUR VIEWS: Fort Sill
The Oklahoman Editorial Published: November 12, 2008
In a story Sunday, The Oklahoman’s Ron Jackson wrote about Army men who police say are also known gang members. Balderdash, the Fort Sill brass exclaimed one day later.
Jackson noted the case of Spc. Gregory Darnell King, a reservist who served with the 177th Field Artillery. In an image collected by the Lawton gang unit, King can be seen flashing a sign affiliated with a national gang that has members in Lawton. The story detailed how King has been arrested six times in the past two years by Lawton police on various complaints, including drug possession.
Jackson reported on the death of a soldier, suspected of being a member of the notorious Blood gang, who was killed in a gang-related argument outside a Lawton nightclub.
Certainly, these are just two men of thousands who serve — and do so admirably — at Fort Sill. But the case built by the Lawton police about gang-related problems linked directly to the post is pretty strong. The man who heads up the police gang task force, Lt. Darnell Southerland, said flatly, "People don’t want to face the truth, but it’s true. Fort Sill has a problem with gangs.”
The post’s leadership begs to differ. On Monday, a high-ranking officer issued a statement that said Southerland’s information was "completely inaccurate and totally outdated,” and that no soldier had been arrested or implicated in gang activity in the past year. The rebuttal was issued after a private sitdown with Southerland, the mayor, the police chief and the city manager. Southerland was ordered not to speak with the media.
In his earlier interview with our reporter, Southerland said his unit has routinely shared with post officials its evidence, gleaned from traffic stops and arrests. "But nobody wants to listen,” he said.
Clearly, they’re listening now.
We hope the reaction was designed to quell any notion that Fort Sill is rife with gang members, as opposed to trying to impugn the detective. The post isn’t overrun with gang-bangers, of course, and Southerland, a 20-year veteran of the department, never suggested as much. But he and his task force aren’t making these stories up.
We’re reminded of what Hunter Glass, an expert in the study of gangs in the military, told Jackson. His lectures "aren’t always popular. People get angry,” Glass said. "I’ve had politicians call me, generals call me ... but people have to wake up.”