Gangs Not Prevalent Here, Says Investigator
How to identify a gang sign, what colors are associated with which gangs, and how to tell if a child's behavior appears to be associated with a gang were some of the topics discussed at John Witherspoon Middle School on Monday night when the Township and Borough Police and Princeton Regional Schools hosted a town forum to educate parents on gang behavior.
Although the images of gang violence and language associated with gang lingo were graphic, some of the more than 150 residents in attendance said they felt the presentation was helpful. "I think it's good to see the signs and know what to look for," said Charlotte O'Connell, a Borough resident.
Parents were also assured by the program's presenter, Senior Investigator John Antinoro of the NJ Department of Corrections, that Princeton is not a problem town. Citing five gang-related symbols in town as the only evidence of gangs here, he said that Princeton is "Shangri-la" compared to other parts of the state.
"You have nothing to worry about here," he said. "Princeton is in front of the curve." While the forum didn't necessarily offer more information regarding Princeton's recent incidents of violence, information given on gang-related activity that takes place around the state was "overwhelming," said one resident.
There are seven major gangs in New Jersey, and some type of gang exists in all 21 counties, said Mr. Antinoro. He confirmed that there are Bloods gang members living in Trenton and the surrounding areas, adding that while belonging to a gang is not against the law, participating in gang-related activity is.
He also said that it was possible that affluent communities like Princeton could attract gangs since there is money here to buy the drugs they sell.
Identifying gang members and their symbols was a large part of Monday night's presentation. Some symbols of the Bloods gang are a tattoo of a pit bull or three raised burn marks on the arm, said the investigator. The number 031 is also associated with the gang, as October 31 is a day of reverence for the Bloods. These gang members can also be found wearing red clothing with sports teams' names that are not often locally supported, such as the Chicago Bulls.
The Crips gang, the Bloods' nationally-known rival, often wear blue or purple, and can be found wearing blue beads around their neck or in their pocket. The members brand themselves with a letter of their choosing. They are also known for wearing a "B" on their clothing with a line through it, or blue British Knights sneakers.
"Some people do wear this clothing legitimately and it doesn't mean anything," Mr. Antinoro added.
Any race can be found in these gangs, said the investigator. Both black and white members are in the Bloods and the Crips.
"It isn't a black and white thing anymore; it's multiracial," he said.
Identifying Gang Behavior
Parents should be mindful of the music their children listen to, as many rappers have been found to be associated with gangs, said Mr. Antinoro, who mentioned Ice T, 2 Pac, DMX, 50 Cent, and Dr. Dre. At the conclusion of the presentation, Mr. Antinoro showed Snoop Dogg's music video for his song, "Drop It Like Its Hot," identifying several symbols of the Crips gang in the video, including the "Crip walk," a dance which spells out the words, "Crips for life."
Children's action figure toys, called "Homies," are also associated with gangs, and can be readily found in stores such as Wal-mart, or even McCaffrey's Market, as one audience member pointed out.
Mr. Antinoro recommended that parents keep a close watch on their children, by meeting their friends and the parents of their friends when possible. He also suggested monitoring the lyrics their children listen to, the TV programs they watch, and the clothing they wear. In an attempt to feel included, some youths not affiliated with a gang will wear gang-type clothing, which could incite a violent incident if he or she were to come in contact with actual gang members, warned the investigator.
To further the dialogue on recent incidents of bias crimes in Princeton, parents are invited to participate in a community parenting talk in the John Witherspoon cafeteria on Thursday night, at 7:30 p.m.
In addition, police are looking to bring GAPP, a gang awareness prevention program, to the middle school in the upcoming weeks. The program may also be taken to the high school level, said Township police.