A wakeup call on gangs

Published 12:00 am Thursday, May 3, 2007

A group of Franklin students, parents, educators, law enforcement officials and other interested individuals met recently to discuss the threat posed to the city by gangs.

Some might register surprise and disbelief at the contention that gang activity has made its way into such a small, close-knit, rural community. Local police officers, however, are not among the disbelievers, as evidenced by the serious tone they took during the informational meeting and the strident warnings they had for parents regarding the dangers their children could face.

A video presentation that showed a teenager being &uot;beat in&uot; to his gang during an initiation rite made the violence gangs represent plain. A speech by a convicted killer and former member of the &uot;Crips&uot; in California put a chilling face on that violence. And photos showing gang graffiti in Franklin quite literally brought the whole presentation home for those in the audience.

More than a week after the murders of 32 students and faculty on the bucolic Blacksburg campus of Virginia Tech, it is clear to most people that evil can exist anywhere. In a way, the senselessly violent acts committed on that college campus drove home the importance of vigilant and proactive community policing and correlates to the problem of local gangs. Knowing that the cancerous gang culture has a small, but growing, influence on the community, police and community leaders have committed themselves to excising it before it gets out of control.

Admittedly Franklin is a long way — geographically and criminally — from South Central Los Angeles. Gangs here do not commit open war in the streets, drive-by shootings are almost unheard-of, and police seem to have the upper hand against the local gang members. Efforts such as the meeting held here last week should help ensure that Franklin remains a step ahead of the gangs that, unchecked, would take over the community and devour its youth.

Members of the community who are committed to its safety and vitality should get involved in these efforts. Listen to the experts about the warning signs of gang activity, watch for those signs in your children and your neighborhood, and work with police to identify and remove the negative influences. By attacking this cancer now, while it is still small, the disease can be kept from spreading.