Maryland citizens may drive by walls, buildings, bridges and other graffiti-covered structures every day and not think twice about the spray-painted messages. But for the Anne Arundel County Police Department, “the graffiti is on the wall” when it comes to area gangs.
In a Dec. 4 presentation in the Our Lady of the Fields, Millersville, parish hall, police told parents, grandparents, neighbors and concerned parishioners that graffiti can be a sign of gang territory.
“Once you see tagging they are already here,” said Detective Shane Poteet, eastern P.A.C.T., Gang Suppression and a Mount St. Joseph High School, Irvington, graduate.
During the information session, Detective Poteet and Detective James Rehbein, from the Anne Arundel County Police Department, talked to citizens about street gangs in the area.
“Unlike traditional artistic graffiti commonly known as “tagging,” gang graffiti presents a straight-forward message to the reader,” said Officer Poteet. “Gang graffiti is meant to mark territory and boundaries, warn or threaten rival gangs, advertise gang drug sales, show the size and strength of the gang, disrespect rivals and memorialize dead gang members.”
According to Officer Poteet misconceptions about gangs range from people thinking they don’t exist in their area to people believing they don’t commit crimes and aren’t really a threat. Officer Poteet said many people have the misconception that gangs originated in Los Angeles. This is completely false; gangs originally started in Chicago and have spread all over the United States, said Officer Poteet.
“We are no different than any other city, county or town,” said Officer Rehbein who informed the group that their county is not the only one in Maryland to have gang-related problems.
Office Poteet informed the audience of some 50 people that gangs form because of geography, race, ethnic background, brotherhood, protection intimidation, fellowship and ideology.
“They are proud of their gang,” said Officer Rehbein. “They are recruiting anyone they can because there is power in numbers.”
Personal factors that contribute to youth becoming involved in gangs include the feeling of power. A gang may offer protection and prestige for students who are picked on in school. Many people think that teens join gangs because they come from a broken home but that is only partially true, said Officer Poteet. Many teens from wealthy, upper class society get involved with gangs because for them it is a second family when their parents are too busy working. Peer pressure can also be a powerful influence over youth.
Gang members come in all shapes, sizes, colors, races and women are not excluded. The allure of money, limited life options and the thrill of adventure bring even the smartest youth into the jaws of street gangs.
Videos, pictures and songs displaying gang messages flashed on the screen as examples of what parents should be looking for in their neighborhoods, schools and even in their own homes.
“I’ll be watching out for the kids to ‘throw up’ signs or otherwise demonstrate that they are becoming involved in a gang,” said Debbie Maerzke, a parishioner of Our Lady of the Fields, who helped set up the event.
Officer Rehbein urged parents to “become more involved with your children.” He told parents to watch the sites their children view online, especially MySpace and YouTube.
“If you see their grades dropping, they are distancing themselves from you and not doing chores like they normally do, that is a sign,” said Officer Rehbein. “Just because they like rap music or like baggy clothes doesn’t mean they are in a gang.”
“I think it’s very important for parents to know what is going on ‘out there,’” said Mrs. Maerzke. “Street gangs seem to be making a slow but steady infiltration into Anne Arundel County, and it’s a danger that parents must know, understand and teach their children about.”
For more information on street gangs visit, www.knowgangs.com.