09/26/08 — Authorities hope law will help stop gangs

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Authorities hope law will help stop gangs

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on September 26, 2008 1:40 PM

Local police who deal with gangs are looking at a new law with cautious optimism -- hoping, they say, that stiffer penalties after Dec. 1 might hamper gangs that try to recruit children for criminal activity.

"(The law) it's better than what they first came out with -- a whole lot better," Sheriff Carey Winders said.

One reason, Winders said, is that the final draft of the legislation, called the "Street Gang Supression Act," specifically addresses the retaliation against "getting out."

"Juveniles and people that were getting involved in gangs, who want to get out of gangs, so many times, people are harassed, intimidated. Or, the person trying to get them out of the gang is intimidated or threatened," Winders said.

The new law makes it a Class H felony to "communicate a threat of injury to a person, or to damage the property of another, with intent to deter a person from (withdrawing gang membership)."

Other penalties were stiffened as well, and some passages are entirely new. One new clause makes it a Class E felony to "discharge a firearm from within an enclosure," clearly targeting "drive-by"-type shootings.

Although Winders and his gang specialist deputy, Detective Matt Miller, offered circumspect, albeit positive comments about the law, they also asked for caution in reporting anything dealing with gangs.

Miller said that in previous coverage, when he named gangs in Wayne County, one group was left out.

That prompted members of that gang to "mark up" more territory -- leaving spraypainted gang signs in an apparent attempt to remind authorities of their existence, he said.

Some officers also say there is little difference between "wannabe" gang members and the "real" thing," and Goldsboro police gang expert Willie Thomas said it matters little whether a group has an actual affiliation with a "national" gang.

"Wannabes are actually more dangerous than an actual gang member," Thomas said. "They want to be known as a 'gangbanger,' so they ... go out and do something crazy -- a robbery at a convenience store. When they get arrested, they say 'I'm down with this sect.'"

Thomas said some gangs have "books of knowledge," which contain information unique to the group.

"It's the same as a job -- your job manual -- so they're supposed to, if they're really an actual gang member, they will know this book," Thomas said. "They have their own prayer. They have their own laws."

Thomas, a longtime drug abuse resistance education officer, said he deals mainly with fifth-grade students.

"What I'm seeing is a lot of the 'Blood' signage. They wear the red, they carry the red bandannas," Thomas said.

A few of the students have even picked up a linguistic trait of Blood members who cannot utter a word with the letter "C" in it.

"A Blood member can't say anything with a "C" in it -- he's got to say 'bigarette,' (for cigarette)," Thomas said. "I heard kids saying 'bigarettes' -- these are fifth- and sixth-graders saying 'bigarette.'"

Despite such widespread adoptance of certain gang traits, Miller said it's uncommon for street gangs to have ties to gangs with the same name in other cities.

"Let me say this -- people have a misconception about gangs. It's not organized, where they have this infrastructure that ... reports to some head boss out in Miami," Miller said. "It's a group of five to 10 guys, close knit, and they call themselves 'The Bloods,' and they adopt the codes and disciplines.

"Their infrastructure is tight, but they don't actually report to someone else."

Miller's credentials have been extended to include a federal designation, as he is now a part of the Safe Streets Task Force, the sheriff said.

When appropriate, Miller can see that certain gang cases go to federal court, where the penalties are stiffer.

The sheriff said he wants to make it clear that he is acknowledging the existence of gangs in Wayne County.

"I want to reiterate this, to say, yeah, we know that gangs have been in existence. They probably are still going to be in existence. We're making every possible effort to work to deter people from gangs," Winders said.