Last night I attended a disturbing Metro Gang Unit presentation at my children's elementary school, Dual Immersion Academy in Glendale.---
My 9 year-old daughter asked me to go, apparently so she could hang out with her friends while I sat through Salt Lake City PD detective, Blake Wright, offering a glimpse through his slide show 'Gangs 101' of a reality most of the Hispanic mothers who attended last night seemed more than aware of.
According to Wright, there are 4,000 documented gang members in the Salt Lake valley belonging to 60 active gangs. A number of factors are unique to Utah - gangs are often multi-racial, less territorial than in other states and highly mobile. Stealing a car in Ogden, driving to Provo on gang business, then stealing another car in Provo for the journey back is standard procedure for valley gang members, Wright explained.
The mostly mothers in the audience wanted to know what signs to look for to see if their kids were drifting into gang life. Look at clothing, accessories, graffiti in school books, changes in behavior the detective advised. One father expressed concern about his 14 year-old spending four hours a day in the gym. His wife said, "At least we know where he is." Not so fast, Wright cautioned. Gyms are places gangs congregate he pointed out.
I attended the presentation out of curiousity to see what the mothers' concerns were. I doubted if my nine year-old would be drawn into the gang life, if only because she is a stickler for doing the right thing. Girls, one mother said, however, tend to hide their affiliations, while also being very aggressive. She learned of a girls' gang where they all wore the same colored socks to show they belonged.
Wright put up a chilling slide of three Hispanic boys, aged 4, 6 and 10, all in gang colors, one brandishing an automatic. I will be paying more attention in the future to my girl's schoolbooks and clothing.