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Asking questions is key to learning about gangs
28 April 2011

BISMARCK (UTN) - If you have a student on campus or in a school who appears to be projecting gang behavior, don't be afraid to ask the person about it.

      That's one piece of advice for school administrators, law enforcement, and safety and security personnel from a gangs expert. Christopher M. Grant, M.A., a national Native American gang specialist, says you shouldn't be reluctant to ask the right questions.

Christopher M. Grant, Rapid City, SD, a specialist in Native American gangs, talks with Scott Davis of the North Dakota Indian Affairs Commission during a break in a workshop about gangs in Indian Country. DENNIS J. NEUMANN/United Tribes News

      Grant conducted a workshop April 7 at United Tribes about gangs in Indian Country.

      "If you have someone who is projecting that attitude or behavior about themselves, there's nothing wrong with sitting down and saying, 'hey, I'm seein' this goin' on with you. Are you claimin' gang affiliation? You're walkin' through here every day carrying a blue bandanna, and I see these tats, and you're throwin' hand signs.' There's nothing wrong with asking the question," he said.

      Grant says he believes that a lot of the individuals involved in gang activity think adults are blind to what they're doing, "that we don't recognize it."

      "When we let people know that we see you…there's some value in that in terms of mitigating their behavior," he said. "If you have a young man openly displaying gang tattoos and markings on their body, the worst thing we can do is pretend like we don't see it. Pretend like we don't recognize it."

      Grant traced the origins of gang activity in Indian Country to the late 1980s and early 1990s. Over the last five-to-ten years, he said, there have been notable increases in activity in tribal communities in the Southwest, Northwest and Midwest regions of the country. Communities affected experience an upswing in criminal activity, including significant levels of violence, drug use and distribution.

      "There are some realities of gang involvement that most young people are not considering or are not concerned about," said Grant. "There are realities that we can convey to them. Are you thinking about the potential consequences of the choices you're makin?"

      Grant says young people are unaware of the fear and insecurity that comes with being in a gang, "not knowing when your home-boys are gonna turn on you." Or what might happen to you from one day to the next, or to your family. He said there is helplessness and hopelessness being trapped inside gang behavior.

      Grant said he had no particular data about gangs at tribal colleges. He said he sees a lot of gang activity in tribal schools, middle schools and high schools, and a fair amount in boarding schools, where students come from reservations around the country and bring their gang affiliation with them and start recruiting. Be that as it may, Grant says he supports gang-involved individuals who go to high school or college because education is their lifeline.

      "The most effective thing we can do is sit down with that person and say, 'welcome to our school, welcome to this campus. But, I'm lookin' at your arm here and unless I'm mistaken, that looks like a gang marking to me. Are you claiming gang affiliation?' If the answer is 'yes, I am,' then you should respond with, 'well, we want you to know you are welcome here on this campus, as long as you are not a gangster on this campus.' That's the dividing line. You can be a student here, and you can be a gang-involved student here, but you cannot be a student-gangster here."

      It should be made clear that individuals are in school to be students, said Grant. They are there to better themselves. They should be told that any displaying, representing or recruiting, or anything else that's gang related, means they will be asked to leave.

      Schools should be prepared with personal appearance policies, teachers who are trained, and a staff that's willing to recognize the problem and step up and address the overt gang behavior that's occurring. Otherwise schools can be a primary place for gang influences to occur.

      The workshop was attended by more than 50 representatives of law enforcement and criminal justice agencies in the region. The training was made possible through the Federal Law Enforcement Center's Rural Policing Institute, Glynco, GA.

      "There was a lot of valuable information about the scope of Indian gangs, especially in the Bismarck-Mandan area and on reservations," said Phil Baird, United Tribes Vice-President of Academic, Career and Technical Education. " We in the tribal colleges should be better informed about the problem and how to be proactive in dealing with it."


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