New York State Senator Michael Balboni has turned his attention to gangs, specifically how they affect the safety of students, and is urging community involvement in a fight against gangs on Long Island suburbs.
North Hempstead Supervisor May Newburger, Assemblyman Tom DiNapoli, Senator Mike Balboni and Town of Hempstead Councilman Tom Dwyer address the problem of gangs on Long Island with pieces of clothing that could be worn by gang members.
A U.S. Department of Education survey found that the presence of gangs nearly doubled between 1989 and 1995. In addition, according to the 2000 National Youth Gang Survey, 95 percent of police departments identified gang activity in at least one of the high school's in their jurisdictions. The same survey found that more than 24,500 gangs and 772,500 gang members were active in more than 3,330 police jurisdictions across the United States in 2000.
Once thought of as an urban problem, gangs have infiltrated the suburbs including Long Island communities and they prey on young people who are looking for involvement, looking for some sense of belonging.
"Schools should be safe havens for children, not stalking grounds for predatory gang members," said Balboni. "Gangs prey upon and intimidate students without fear of retribution, because there are no specific laws on the books to prosecute them. We need to pass legislation that explicitly prohibits and prosecutes gang recruitment on school grounds."
Balboni, therefore, has sponsored and passed in the Senate legislation what would make the recruitment of gang members on school grounds a crime.
However, some lawmakers and law enforcement officials agree that fighting gangs by policing and laws is not going to eliminate the problem. "We need to establish better communication among parents, educators, law enforcement officers and our children about what we can do to recognize the presence of gangs in our communities, and how we can protect ourselves against their influence."
There are signs for parents, educators and fellow students to recognize possible gang presence. For example, symbols on a notebook or tattoos could also be signs of a student's interest in gang activity. Also, certain clothing is identifiable with gangs.
"Gang violence requires a number of solutions. The first step is to acknowledge that gangs are in our communities and in our schools. We must use every resource at our disposal to deter their activities to prevent kids from joining gangs and to keep parents and teachers informed about signs of gang activity in their neighborhoods," said Detective Corey Alleyne of the Special Investigations Squad of the Nassau County Police Department.
According to Alleyne, the positives students get out of joining gangs is a sense of belonging, respect and protection. However, the negatives of joining a gang is that, at some point in time, as a gang member, you are going to have to commit a crime.
The key is to provide at risk-students another avenue to gain respect and belonging and a sense of security without joining a gang. Mentoring programs set up in many schools are thought of as an effective means to provide students with an outlet by which they are receiving a sense of belonging.
According to Alleyne, students can get the same understanding, the same love and the same respect from programs like Big Brothers or the Girl Scouts or the Boy Scouts that they get from gangs. "We're not just going to tell young people to step away from gangs and have them do that unless we interject something that is just as powerful," he said. "This is a problem for societies."