I tell people all the time that to beat gangs we have to compete with gangs for our children. Here's an article from Brownsville, Texas.
Family key to deter gangs
Thoughts of loud music, flashy cars, baggy clothes and gang violence bring shivers of fear into the heart of Petra Martinez.
The 46 -year-old woman, who lives near Military Highway on the west side of Brownsville, is nervous that her young boys will grow into that lifestyle.
"When I was young I used to live in Houston," Martinez said. "And there it was very ugly, you would see them with their gang signs (graffiti and colors) and their cars. It was scary because they always had guns and would give drugs to the kids in the street."
Martinez now and has two teenage sons whom she meticulously watches over to keep away from bad company. That is why rough-looking men and flashy cars put her on the defensive.
According to Police Sergeant Jimmy Manrrique, Brownsville is not like other cities across the United States that have major gang problems and are forced to devote resources into gang units and task forces.
Therefore, Brownsville's primary prevention comes from good parenting. According to Jim Wright, managing director of Programs for the National Crime Prevention Council, parents are the first line of defense in the fight against gangs. A close relationship with children from a young age can prevent a life of crime.
"We encourage parents to talk as much as possible with their adolescent," Wright said. "To know who their friends are, what they like to do, and where they go."
When there are changes in these factors, there are usually causes for concern, he said.
"We encourage parents to teach their children positive ways of dealing with conflict rather than fighting it out or screaming," Wright said. "We also encourage them to talk to their kids about what friendship is all about, that friends don't endanger other friends, they help each other."
Although Brownsville does not have criminal activity that can be attributed to street gangs, police know of several members of prison gangs in the area, according to Brownsville police.
By definition, street gangs are groups of typically young individuals who gather for a purpose, much like any other club, Wright said. What makes them different is that they engage in criminal behavior.
"Many of the gangs are involved in drugs," Wright said. "So the violence revolves around that, they commit turf wars, retaliate a bad deal and there's always a sense of bravado that goes in with being in gangs that makes them more prone to violence."
There is a clear distinction between street gangs and prison gangs, Manrrique said.
"These people are involved in drug trafficking so they try to keep low, (and) we do see them pop out when they have conflicts amongst themselves," Manrrique said
Cameron County Sheriff Omar Lucio said that prison gangs are criminal enterprises that recruit and train inside jail facilities.
"These individuals are involved with the Mexican drug cartels in the transportation and distribution of drugs," Lucio said. "They are very dangerous because they make a pact in order to join the gang. That pact is for life, inside and outside. When and individual tries to leave the gang, they are likely to get hurt."
Cameron County and the nearby area have members of various prison gangs, mainly the Vallucos, the Tri City Bombers, Mexican Mafia and the Texas Syndicate, said Lucio, who also provided a description of each gang:
-Vallucos operate in both Cameron and Hidalgo Counties. They are identifiable by their tattoos which feature the letter V, palm trees or the number 22 since V is the 22nd letter of the alphabet.
-Tri-City Bombers are predominantly active in the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo area. They derive their name from the three cities in Hidalgo County. Their tattoos usually have a round bomb with a fuse.
-The Mexican Mafia began in California in the 1950's by Mexican immigrants and has slowly moved into the area. They congregate near the Santa Maria area by F.M. 281. They have tattoos with the letter M.
-The Texas Syndicate, which also began in California features tattoos with the letter S and T. They also feature longhorns and other Texas symbols.
According to the sheriff, close to 40 percent of the inmates with gang affiliations that are being housed in the Cameron County jail system are members of the Vallucos. The jail also held 30 members of the Texas Syndicate and 9 members of the Mexican Mafia, he said.
When gangs clash in Brownsville, there is violence but the gangs don't cause a significant increase in the city's overall crime, Manrrique said.
"Three of the murders that we've had in recent years have been associated to prison gangs," he said. "On average, we've had about five murders a year for the past five years, so they are not a big factor here."
On Sept. 29, Daniel Alonso Garza 34, an inmate and believed by police to have been a member of the Texas Syndicate, was stabbed at least 12 times by three other inmates also presumed members of the same gang at the old Cameron County Jail, police said. This incident did not result in a fatality.
On Jan. 14, 2007, Steven Rodriguez, 29, was repeatedly stabbed and the back area and killed. His body was later found in a canal ditch on the 1200 block of Milpa Verde Street in the Southmost Area. Javier Chavez, 28 years old at the time, was charged with the murder. According to Sgt. Manrrique, Chavez had ties with the Mexican Mafia.
On Nov. 23, 2006, then 45-year-old Jose Torrez was gunned down in a drive-by shooting outside an abandoned home on the 3400 block of Gardenia Street. Torrez was hit 11 times. Jerry Perez, Enrique Bazaldu, Juan Carlos Aguilar and Victor Barrera - all known members of the Texas Syndicate - were charged with the crime.
On May 16, 2006, Jose Miguel Vasquez stabbed Port Isabel fisherman George Garza 33 times at Oliveira Park on El Paso Road. Vasquez was convicted in September and sentenced to life in prison. According to police, the murder was part of an initiation into the Texas Syndicate.
Lucio and Wright agree that individuals who are involved in school activities and sports are less likely to be influenced by gang members
"They (teenagers) are usually looking for a sense of belonging," Lucio said. "They may come from broken homes or may not have a positive role model, so they join these gangs to be part of something."