“This is just the tip of the iceberg what we are seeing tonight,” Lumberton Police Chief Michael McNeil said. “What you are seeing here tonight is really what our boys and girls are seeing in the street every day.”
On Thursday, more than 100 residents, parents, educators, local officials and lawmen packed into the Osterneck Auditorium for the Lumberton Police Department Gang/Drug Awareness and Recognition Forum. The forum was held to help residents identify gang and drug activity within their neighborhoods and to learn how to prevent children from joining gangs. Lawmen said that many of the city’s gang members are under the age of 16.
The main message: Get involved — with your children, with your neighbors and your community.
Officers Walter Hinson and Jeremiah Goodson of the Lumberton Police Department’s Gang Investigation Unit gave a PowerPoint presentation showing photographs and videos of gang members in an effort to give residents a tool to recognize gang activity around them. Some residents were heard whispering that they had seen the graffiti “tags,” hand signs, tattoos and clothing styles before. The photos were all taken in Lumberton.
Some in the crowd gasped when Hinson showed a photograph of guns and ammunition seized from the Parkview Activity Center. He told residents that there are “so many kids with weapons, including shotguns, rifles and AK’s .”
“And people say we don’t have gangs,” Hinson said. “They’re wrong. If they are a wannabe gang member, they’re gonna-be a gang member.”
Hinson also showed a video of a “Beat-in” during which a teen was repeatedly punched, kicked and knocked down by about a dozen gang members as part of his initiation.
“This is only a minute, 20 seconds of the beating,” Hinson said. “He still had five more minutes to go.”
Goodson showed examples of graffiti, explaining that all the symbols carried meanings.
“BK stands for ‘Blood Killers,’ this was written by Crips.’’ he said. “A five-point star, this was done by Bloods. Crips use a six-point star.”
He then showed a photograph of a stop sign in the Davis Heights community with the word “snitching” spray-painted below.
“They live by this,” he said. “We go out there for a shooting that 15 people saw, and nobody’s ‘seen anything.’
Goodson said that gang members specifically recruit pre-teens because “they know that if they get caught they are going to juvy for a couple of days, or going right back home. They can’t go to prison.”
Lawmen said children as early as 7 years old are joining gangs, adding that many of those children were recruited at schools.
“The gang life is glamorized in our media, music, fashion and TV,” Hinson said. “If that kid wants those $100 shoes and can’t get them from his parents, and sees that older gang member with those shoes, where do you think he’s gonna go?”
Lawmen said that parents need to be alert to early signs of gang activity, including a change in dress, demeanor, drug use, unexplained sums of cash, late hours, gang symbols, a decline in grades and truancies.
“Check out your kids,” Goodson said. “Check their rooms, their closets, their notebooks, their friends.”
Hinson said that parents need to step in and be a good role model.
“These children need to feel loved and wanted,” Hinson said. “If you don’t raise your children, the blocks will.”
The forum also included:
— An introduction into the Weed and Seed federal program by coordinator Sylvia Stone. The program South and East Lumberton and works by “weeding out the bad, and seeding the good,” and helps communities “regain and take control of their communities “ by implementing educational programs.
— An introduction to Project Safe Neighborhoods by Coordinator James Smith. The project puts gang and gun education in schools. Smith said that most of the gunmen in local shootings are between the ages of 12 and 24, and the victims are in the same age group.
— A presentation by Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agent Mark Oxendine. He told residents that offenders with more than three violent or drug crimes are automatically sentenced to 15 years in prison if arrested. The ATF often partners with local law agencies during investigations.
— A presentation about the effects of drug use over time by Detective Burnis Wilkins, who urged residents to report gang and drug activity. Residents can anonymously report crimes at: firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.