The Gangfighters Network is an organization designed to bridge the gap between academia and the criminal justice professions. For more information, visit and The focus is on gangs, initially adult gangs as it appears they have been ignored or absorbed into the mainstream society. There's a special focus on gang members in the military.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Question and Answer on responses to Gangs

1. What should schools do about gangs?

School leaders need to be able to treat gangs as they would any other group of people that threaten the safety of the students. In the elementary, middle, and high schools, youth who are involved with gangs will often be disruptive or divisive in the classroom. Teachers must be able to respond with respect while still controlling the situation. The School Resource Officers are trained to identify problems -- including the presence of gangs. Work with them. Don't let the kids in the school be terrorized by gang members -- protect them.

2. What should parents do to keep their kids out of gangs?

Parents need to fight the tendency to think "my child would never join a gang" and act as if they want to do everything in their power to keep that from happening. This applies to parents at all socio-economic levels. Parents need to teach their children discipline and respect and the boldness to express individuality. If you sense that your child has something they don't belong having in their possession (gang attire, paraphernalia, guns, knives, drugs, etc.) ask them about it and then follow up by looking through their possessions -- no matter what they think about it. Gangs are not a minor illness that will go away with time. They are a poison that will kill people. If a police officer suspects your child is in a gang -- don't start by denying it, start by trying to see why it might look that way.

Act like a parent -- not a lawyer.

Demand that the local school system stop tolerating the presence of gang members in the schools. Call your elected representatives and public servants regularly and voice your concerns. There are gangs in many of the public schools in Middle Tennessee -- stop sitting idly by and letting them establish a presence in the schools. If the people we vote for and pay to run the schools won't work to keep gangs from taking over the schools -- replace them.

3. What should youths who are being recruited to be in a gang do?

If members of a gang try to recruit you -- make it clear that you are not interested. It is possible to be respectful while declining an offer to join or even affiliate with the gang. These people will act as if they will be your best friends and yet what they will do is help you ruin your life. Gang members rarely become productive citizens and when they do it is only after they leave the gang - many are dead before they are old enough to be parents. If you don't know what you want to do with your life -- it's better to do nothing than to join a gang (even if they don't call themselves a "gang").

4. What should members of the community (police, churches, neighborhood groups, etc.) do about gangs?

Community leaders need to respond to gangs as if they are poisonous to the welfare and safety of all members of the community -- because they are. The gang mentality is being shared through movies, music, and Internet communication methods, and will reach the youth. Members of the community need to be vigilant in their search for indicators of gang activity and find things for the youth to do other than "hanging out" with a bunch of thugs. Avoid denial at all costs -- if someone acts like they are in a gang they probably are. There's no need to support what others are doing when what they are doing hurts them and everyone that comes in contact with them. Being a gang member is not a protected class of society - treat gangs like you want them to go away -- and they will.

Carter Smith is an Assistant Professor of Criminal Justice at Middle Tennessee State University (MTSU) and a founding board member of the Tennessee Gang Investigators Association (TNGIA). MTSU and TNGIA are co-hosting a Youth Gang - Organized Crime Symposium March 11-13, 2010. The event is open to the public. For more information, visit

More at The Tennessean.


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I prefer to be called Carter, though I have grown accustomed to answering to most any variation that remains respectful.
I learned from the UPS manual that a leader does not need to remind others of authority by use of title. Knowledge, performance, and capacity should be adequate evidence of position and leadership.