03/28/06 — Graffiti heralds gangs

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Graffiti heralds gangs

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on March 28, 2006 1:49 PM

Known throughout the gang world as the "newspaper of the streets," graffiti is a city's first sign of trouble -- and law enforcement officials say it's beginning to show up around Goldsboro.

Police Chief Tim Bell talked to City Council members about gang awareness at their March 20 work session.

He said Goldsboro doesn't currently have a gang problem, but spray-painted messages on street signs, train cars and abandoned buildings are signs gangs might be developing more of a presence in the area.

"The 2005 Governor's Crime Commission Survey found that gangs are a growing problem in North Carolina," Bell said. "You can see graffiti on signs and bridges when you're driving around. And the state's telling us that when you start to see graffiti, you know there is some gang presence."

The messages vary in meaning, he added. Some simply exist to glorify a particular gang. Others are warnings.

"Graffiti is known as the newspaper of the street," he said. "We might drive by and think nothing about it, but it means something to the gang. It could be marking territory, issuing a warning to other gangs or glorifying a gang."

But the fact that buildings and other property around the city have been marked doesn't mean the culprit was acting through a gang. In fact, the state has specific definitions of gangs and their activities, Bell said.

A gang, he said, is defined as a group of three or more individuals who commit criminal activity and have at least a common name, symbol, or color. Additionally, there are different types of gangs -- traditional and nontraditional.

"Traditional gangs are ones that have long histories and have evolved from specific organizations," Bell said. "These are very well-structured gangs. But your non-traditional gangs, and that's more about what we're seeing around here, are considered neighborhood gangs. Their name usually reflects the neighborhood they live in and their structure is very informal."

Bell added that while many traditional gangs are feared above others, the nontraditional can be far worse, acting without foresight and purpose.

"They usually organize and act without thinking, he said. "They are undisciplined, which can make them very dangerous."

Goldsboro police are beginning to notice evidence on the street that points to group-related criminal activity, Bell added, including matching tattoos.

"We're starting to see some hand signals used on the streets," he said. "They are used as a way to communicate and put down rival gangs."

Still, Bell said there is no definitive proof that Goldsboro residents need to worry about increased gang activity in the area.

"There is no evidence that there are gangs operating in Goldsboro," he said.

But some residents, like Jamal Warner of Carolina Street, said the young boys in the neighborhood are aggressive. He fears the environment they are being raised in might lead them to gang life.

"The boys around here are always swearing and pushing each other around," he said. "They yell and scream and don't have any respect for the neighborhood. I just hope they don't end up turning to violence and stealing."