First Posted: 1/15/2009
LUMBERTON — The words “Crip City” are spray-painted across the red fence near an abandoned building at the corner of Pine Street and Elizabethtown Road. Two streets north of City Hall, on a brick wall behind Nationwide Insurance, someone has spray-painted pitchforks and five-pointed stars.
The messages are ominous.
“They’re letting everyone in the neighborhood know who they are,” said Mark Bridgeman, president of the North Carolina Gang Investigator’s Association and a lieutenant with the Fayetteville Police Department. “It’s free advertising.”
On Tuesday, Bridgeman and John Cantey Jr., the Precinct 5 representative on City Council, took a three-hour tour through Lumberton, stopping frequently to photograph gang graffiti and give explanations to a reporter and a photographer about what messages were being conveyed.
“This is all about fear and intimidation in this community here,” Bridgeman said while observing graffiti in Meadowview Apartments, a public housing complex. “That’s classic Gangster Disciples stuff right there. Now they could have learned that from the Internet. We don’t know if that’s an import from Chicago or whatever. But it’s still there none the less … that’s sending a message to each and every one of these families in here of who’s in charge.”
On a different day, a South Lumberton man worries about those messages — and their potential lure.
“My 13-year-old, he idolizes the gang element,” said the father of five. “He doesn’t want to be a doctor or a lawyer when he grows up. He wants to be in a gang.”
The man, who didn’t want his name used for this story, says gangs are active in his neighborhood.
“I have gang members who live right behind me,” he said. “The Bloods and the Crips — they are here, and they’re not here to visit, they’re here to stay.”
Not if Cantey has his way. He has invited Bridgeman to speak to the public about gangs, what to look for, and how to steer children in a different direction. That will happen at the Robeson County Community College auditorium on Feb. 4 at 6 p.m. A question-and-answer session will be part of the night.
“Our community is afraid of the gangs, especially the elderly living in fear,” Cantey said. “I’m not afraid … I’m apprehensive.”
Cantey hopes for a large turnout that includes educators, elected officials, lawmen, church leaders and parents of teenage students. Police Chief Mike McNeill has a conflict, but plans on having a police presence.
“I think awareness is going to be a big solution to what we need to do,” he said. “Parents, church members, law enforcement … these folks just do not know what to look for.”
McNeill’s take on the situation: “Do we have activities associated with the gang names? Yes. … It’s hard for me to say that we have organized gangs, but I can say that we have criminal activity associated with gang names.
“Our kids are just young kids who want to go out and get into some criminal activity, really not knowing what they are getting into — not knowing it’s something that can ruin their lives, their careers and damage their family.”
McNeill encourages parents to know what their children are up to and in to.
“Parents are blindsided by this thing,” he said. “It goes back to the basic stuff — parents knowing where their kids are at, who they are associating with. If you have a kid wanting to wear certain colors or he comes home with one pants leg rolled up, or he wants to wear a certain color bandana … the parents are going to have to start recognizing.”
Bridgeman said that the problem of gangs can be addressed, or it will worsen.
“You’ll have an increased propensity toward violence and that’s always the tattle-tale sign of rivals going at it,” he said. “ … With the narcotics trade and then the violence associated with gangs … the recipe is there for an increase unless you guys decide to do something about it.”