The November meeting of the Westbury Council of Parent Teacher Associations (PTAs) will focus on the presence of gangs in Westbury, in an effort to draw attention to the issue and encourage civic involvement in it.
The meeting will be held on Thursday, Nov. 2 at Westbury High School, beginning at 7:30 p.m. The PTA has invited local clergy members and government officials to the meeting, and hopes to have a large turnout of community members, according to Chester McGibbon, president of the Westbury High School PTA, who noted that the community needs to work together on the issue.
"We want to make a collaborative effort to deal with this situation," said McGibbon. He added that the presence of gangs in the Westbury schools is a reality that needs to be more openly discussed, in order to find solutions. McGibbon noted that he hopes the meeting is the start of an open dialogue on the issue. "It's just to take our heads out of the sand."
McGibbon noted that local gangs recruited heavily in the community during the summer, and currently have a strong presence.
"The children know that it is in the community, and I don't think that we should just ignore it," he said, adding, "If one child is in fear for his or her life on the way to school, or on the way home from school, then there is a problem...The innocent have to be protected."
McGibbon wrote about the summer recruitment by gangs in an article for the Sept. 14 issue of the The Westbury Times, entitled "Focus on Our Youth: Different Geographics, Similar Problems." In it, he noted that rumors of gangs with names such as Crips, Bloods and MS 13 have been prevalent in the community, and that he was aware of three incidents within three weeks in which a group of teenagers had crashed a private party. In one incident, McGibbon noted, a young man was taken by ambulance to the hospital, after he was chased by other teenagers and beaten over the head with a chair.
In an interview earlier this month, Dr. Constance Clarke, superintendent of Westbury Schools, said the district is taking proactive measures to ensure that gang violence has no place in the schools. "If there is gang activity out in the community, we make sure that when youngsters come to school they have a safe place to be," she said. Such measures, she noted, include peer mediation, other counseling services, a zero-tolerance policy regarding violence, and close partnerships with Nassau County's Third Police Precinct and the Village of Old Westbury police department. The district also has a partnership with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding this matter, she said. Dr. Clarke emphasized that violence is not tolerated at the high school, and that isolated incidents are appropriately handled by staff and administrators, with the help of a close connection with local police. "I think we have some very mannerly youngsters," she said, referring to the high school. "It's orderly. It's a typical high school."
McGibbon, however, said that working with local police is not enough, and that the entire community has to be a part of finding a solution to the gang problem. "I know the school is doing what they can," he said, noting that although the police have learned to identify gang colors, code language and paraphernalia, the wider community should also be made aware of the signs of gang activity. He added that all should work to find the root of the problem, and solutions to it.