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The time to act

We all can help in ending gang violence

Gangs bring bad things to a neighborhood and to a community – drugs, guns, fear and even murder.

Law enforcement, led by the Fort Wayne Police Department’s new Gang and Violent Crime Unit, is devoting unprecedented resources to the problem.

But what can the rest of us do?

Not your problem? Think again. Gangs and their violence may be most apparent in some so-called inner-city neighborhoods, but there is no wall around the city’s southeast side, and police say they’re finding gang members in other parts of the city. Gang members now tend to be young African-American men who are neither in school nor employed, but Hispanics and whites are lured by gangs, too. And gang influence is being seen even in middle and elementary schools, according to Sgt. Tom Strausborger of the task force. Kids may just be dabbling with gang graffiti, but a few have brought drugs, and even knives and guns, to school, he said.

What begins as a way to be cool and act tough can devolve into a lifestyle in which violence is the answer and consequences don’t even enter the thought process.

“Death doesn’t bother them,” says gang task force commander Capt. Kevin Hunter of some of the young people they’re dealing with. “They think that they’re going to live forever.”

Where does this indifference toward human lives, even their own, come from? Video games and violent TV and movies can’t be the whole story.

And we all understand that young people are not always going to make the right choices on their own. “We know young people’s brains aren’t fully developed,” Hunter said. The key is to “get them past the adolescent years into adulthood.”

But whose task is that? Surely not just the police. The schools should do what they can, but so much is beyond the control of teachers.

The best places to turn young people away from the temptation of gangs are their own homes. A parent who is both involved and vigilant has the best opportunity to make the difference.

“Address it immediately if you start seeing gang graffiti,” Hunter said. “It really takes parental attention.”

“You should know what your kid’s doing, who he’s hanging out with, what he has in his room,” Strausborger added.

But, he said, “some parents don’t care.”

You don’t have to be a parent to be a part of the solution. Mentoring programs offer kids without good home lives a way out of hopelessness.

Organizations that work with young people perpetually need volunteers and monetary support.

It all starts, though, with a recognition that Fort Wayne’s gang problem is ultimately everybody’s problem. We live in an age and in a world where it’s easy and very tempting to stay unconnected. For the sake of your city and yourselves, resist that urge.