School confronts gangs head on


Feb. 20, 2004, midnight | By Samir Paul | 16 years, 7 months ago

Printed as "Gang activities raise concern"


Following several gang-related incidents at Blair before winter break, administrators highlighted initiatives that aim to battle gangs, including publicly-funded programs and communication with parents, teachers and the Blair community at large.

The administration first heard about the growing issue in early October 2003, and the conflicts escalated into an altercation shortly before winter break. According to Principal Phillip Gainous, December's events resulted in 16 suspensions and four expulsions.

Though the administration dealt promptly with the recent episodes, Gainous said the issue must remain high in the administration's agenda. "At any given moment, we are one swipe of the knife, one pull of the trigger from disaster," he said.

There were two main incidents last December, said Gainous. First, one gang spray painted over another gang's tagging, or signature, violating the second gang's territorial claims. The result was a clash between the black gang and the Latino gang, which eventually spilled over into Blair. A confrontation took place outside the main office, which security guards broke up after only one blow was thrown. One student brandished a knife that was confiscated by security guards.

Later, administrators received a tip that previously uninvolved students from both sides were arming themselves in order to continue the conflict; security guards caught these students.

Last December's events culminated in a meeting set up by the administration at Blair between gang members, their parents, school administrators, police and both Blair and MCPS Central Office security staff, according to Gainous. Students were warned about consequences for fighting and other gang activities. "I thought that it was a really good meeting," Gainous said. "Parents and students started querying about how to get out of a gang. I didn't sense any sort of bravado from the students."

Leaving a gang can be difficult, according to the National Crime Prevention Council, but Fourth District Gang Unit Officer Rob Musser said that it can be done. Members who wish to withdraw from a gang must contact the police, school administration or security guards. Police research the case, and, depending on the severity of a student's gang involvement and criminal record, police meet with anyone necessary to devise a plan to remove him from the gang. Then, police assist gang members in a series of actions that could range from leaving the school to leaving the state.

Since December's meeting, gang fighting at Blair seems to have cooled, Gainous said, in large part due to the administration and law enforcement officials making their presences known. Gainous said that swift, strong action, through suspensions or expulsions, is an effective way to raise awareness of the administration's attitude toward gangs. "If you engage in these activities, you are not welcome in this school," he said.

Security Guard Jose Segura made clear that Blair must remain vigilant and acknowledge that gangs still exist. "It's really time to open your eyes and notice some of these things," Segura admonished teachers. He said that gang members usually travel in groups of two or three, but "when something is about to go down, the whole group gets together."

Security uses clues such as hand signs and gang imagery to detect students who are in gangs.

Tagging takes place regularly on campus, and Assistant Principal Linda Wolf said that the school takes measures against the perpetrators. Security guards photograph and file the graffiti, and copies are sent to the police.

Wolf also said that gang activity at Blair is relatively limited and the problem at Blair is no more severe than at other schools in the county. "I think that just because of our size, it may seem that things are magnified, but we tend to be more proactive [than other schools]. We have a pretty good handle on what goes on," she said.

The administration uses several methods to educate staff about the problem and to reach out to students involved with gangs. Blair sponsored a meeting on Jan. 7 to inform teachers about the history of gangs and how to spot and deal with students involved with gangs. Musser spoke to teachers at the session and at a later meeting with all of the principals in the Blair cluster.

Even as gang fighting is moved off Blair's campus, Musser said at the session that drugs, violence and other issues are not simply flushed away but are instead pushed into surrounding localities. Musser said that Langley Park has become the "epicenter of gang activity in this area."

Also, Wolf said, publicly-funded programs like Collaborative Supervision and Focused Enforcement (CSAFE) and the U.S. Department of Justice's Weed and Seed are active in the Blair area. These programs seek to limit and prevent violence and drug abuse, two common phenomena that accompany gang activity.

However, programs such as Weed and Seed may meet difficulties in keeping gang members off the streets. Musser said that if gang members are illegal immigrants and are convicted of violent crimes, they are deported back to their native country.

But because countries like El Salvador, where highly publicized and highly violent gang Mara Salvatrucha (see "Salvatrucha," page 1) originates, have severe domestic gang problems, deported gang members are often killed on the spot in their home countries to stop the problems from intensifying. Judges in the Blair area, Musser said, are regularly forced to choose between keeping the gang member off streets or giving the death penalty.




Samir Paul. <b>Samir Paul</b>, a Magnet senior, spent the better part of his junior year at Blair brooding over everyone's favorite high-school publication and wooing Room 165's menopausal printer. He prides himself in being <i>THE</i> largest member of Blair Cross Country and looks forward to one more … More »

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