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HARRISONBURG In parts one and two, of our Gangs in the Valley series, we learned that gangs are here, and they make themselves known through graffiti and social media.
Now we look to answer the question, what do kids know about gangs, and what should they know?
Cpl. Bryan Horowitz of the C.H.A.R.G.E Gang Task Force talked to a group of kids with the Boys and Girls Club of Harrisonburg and asked, "Can anyone name a gang?" and received multiple responses.
"Bloods and Crips," said one child.
Another responded, "MS 13. Same. Mafia. Blood."
Horowitz posed another question to the group, "Is a gang a good group or a bad group?"
"Bad group, bad," they responded after a lengthy pause.
The C.H.A.R.G.E. Gang Task Force made a similar presentation last school year to nearly every sixth grade in Harrisonburg and Rockingham County.
Why sixth graders? Because studies show kids are exposed to and first become involved with gangs between ages 11 to 15.
Horowitz asked the kids another question, "What are some of the things we said [gangs] did?"
"Kill, kill, drugs, drugs, illegal stuff, illegal stuff, robberies, robberies," they responded.
While Horowitz talked with the kids, he made it clear that if you join up with a gang, it's hard to escape,"It's hard to get out cause if you go and do those bad things with them, they're going to think, if you're trying to get out,"
The during the presentation, the kids hear from Horowitz, as well as inactive gang members.
"Once my dad passed, it was really like the big blowup marker for me because my mom didn't know what to do. Like my dad was a really positive person. He would have, man I know he's flipping in his grave that he knows that I joined a gang," said Paradise C., an inactive gang member.
"I grew up without a father he left me when I was three years old because of his gang lifestyle, because he was addicted to drugs," said Geronimo A., another inactive gang member.
"It was all a group of us all the same age you know, 13, 14, 15 years old. We all wanted to be a part of something, so," said David A., one of the inactive gang members speaking in a video Horowitz showed the kids.
Horowitz explained to the kids that gang members often get young people in serious trouble by making them do violent or illegal acts in order to become a member of the gang.
He understands that being part of a group is important, but there's more options than settling for a gang.
"So if you do choose to be a part of a group, trying to fill those social needs, trying to be part of something bigger, it's important to choose the good groups like Boys and Girls club, church groups, sports," said Horowitz.
After talking with the kids, it appears Horowitz's message got through.
"Not to get involved in it. And just walk away when they try to get you involved in it," said Elijah Pinedo, an 11-year-old.
"The people that were actually in the gangs felt bad and they wished they would just walked away and stuff, and they say if someone walks up to you and say do you want to be in a gang and you say 'yes', think about it and when you go to jail, tell me how it was, if it was worth it to say yes," said Chelsea Figaro, a 10-year-old.
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