The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas on September 29, 1996 · Page 47
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The Salina Journal from Salina, Kansas · Page 47

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Salina, Kansas
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Sunday, September 29, 1996
Page:
Page 47
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COWIIViUNfTY BY TOM McNICHOL How one small city combats gangs Bloomington, III, cracks down on gangs — and helps at-risk kids escape their clutches B LOOMINGTON, ILL., is a ( community of 57,000 where American flags flutter from front porches and teenagers flock to the Steak N' Shake on Friday nights. But of late, the heartland tableau has been clouded by images probably never imagined: guns, drugs and, particularly, youth gangs. "We've got a definite gang problem here," says Bloomington police officer Don Newton, a member of a 10-member Gang Strike Force created to combat the problem. In most respects, Bloomington is a normal town (the town next door is actually called Normal). State Farm Insurance — the "Good Neighbor" people — is based in Bloomington, and residents never tire of telling visitors what a good place the town is to raise kids. But over the past five years, Bloomington's gang troubles have become a significant problem — and the town is fighting back. Five local law enforcement agencies pooled their resources to create the countywide Gang Strike Force, which focuses exclusively on gang suppression. Police have launched a series of crackdowns. In one recent effort, they managed to sneak a video camera into a gang's headquarters, recording drug deals, details of gang hierarchy, even an assault. Most of those arrested were in their late teens or early 20s; a few were as young as 14. Like other communities, Bloomington has discovered that urban problems don't necessarily stop at city limits. Over the past several years, street gangs have infiltrated America's smaller cities, catching many others by surprise. Bioomington police estimate the city has about 600 gang members, belonging to both home-grown groups and Chicago gangs that make the two-hour journey down Interstate 55. And with the gangs has come violence. Last September, members of a gang calling themselves the Gangster Disciples shot up a Bloomington housing project with a Tec-80 assault weapon. No one was killed, NEWEST GANG TARGETS: SMALLER CITIES • Mora than 1,000 US. towns and cities have active street gangs — up from fewer than 200 In 1980 — and gang membership nationally has risen to at least half a million, according to Malcolm Klein of the University of Southern California, author of The American Street Gang. Gang migration from bigcities to smaller towns is widespread, fueled by gangs seeking new markets— andlessdeadlycompetition —for drug trafficking. At the same time, the emergence of local gangs emulating their big-city counterparts has compounded the problem. • far Springfield, Mo., last December, the FBI broke up a drug ring allegedly run by Gangster Disciples from Chicago. In Muncfe, Ind., gang members have been responsible for four murders over the past three years. In Appleton, Wis. (pop. 70,000), a group of teens calling themselves the D-Mac Crew killed and dismembered a victim. • In the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., gangs have been responsible for three killings since February, and officials estimate there are 1,000 gang members in the metro area. One former member of a Falls Church, Va., gang recently described the Friday night ritual of gang members cruising in their cars, sometimes 30 in a line, looking for rival gang members to tangle with. • to KttitfleM, CaHf,, three gang members beat an innocent teenager into a coma, mistaking him for a member of a rival gang. The gang youths stomped on the victim's head so hard that police later used a boot imprint as evidence. —TM emerging big-city problem. Gangs have been part of the American landscape since the 1950s; what's new is how widespread and how violent they have become. i: but two people were wounded. Two other non-fatal gang shootings occurred within a month. "Five years ago, the only shooting you'd hear about in Bloomington was a kid with a pellet gun," says Peter Rankaitis, director of Project Oz, a local non-profit agency serving youth and families for more than 20 years. "Now, hardly a month goes by when there's not some sort of shooting with serious guns. Thank God most of these kids are really bad shots." Bloomington isn't the only small town with an RONICALLY, THE very qualities that make places like Bloomington so livable are now luring big-city gang members. Outside large cities, they find untapped markets for the drug trade, and fewer police officers. A gang operating in Bloomington, Peoria and Galesburg, 111., raked in an estimated $18 million annually before a 1994 bust by the FBI. Towns along major highways also make fat targets. Bloomington lies on the main route between Chicago and St. Louis. But smaller cities can't blame bigger ones for all their gang problems. As Bloomington has discovered, many gang members are home-grown. Bloomington police estimate three-quarters of its 600 suspected gang members are locals. Many emulate their big-city counterparts, adopting their affiliations, colors, tattoos, hand signals, initiation rites and system of collecting dues (used for legal fees). And they need not look far for gang role models. Continued on next page 8 USA WEEKEND • Sept. 27-29. 1996

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