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Editorial: Joining forces to fight gangs

The three-year, $313,000 grant Livingstone College is getting to develop anti-gang programs in its neighborhood couldn’t come at a better time.
Led by Mayor Susan Kluttz, the Salisbury community has already convened two community summits to discuss ways to combat gangs. Both gatherings have addressed the full range of issues ó keeping young children from starting down that dangerous, hate-filled path and putting away the young adults who have long ago chosen that path and aren’t willing to turn aside.
But gangs apparently still offer enticing incentives ó such as power and brotherhood ó to youth who consider themselves powerless and the rejects of society. And the problem is not going away. If anything, in some Salisbury neighborhoods, gangs appear to be entrenched.
In early August, in a few days time, two groups of youth in different neighborhoods attacked individuals after taunting them with racial slurs. At the time, Salisbury police said they thought the incidents were unrelated. While it may be comforting not to worry about one group of angry young men wandering from neighborhood to neighborhood attacking people, it’s equally disconcerting to think the city has more than one “gang” that will attack victims randomly because of their race.
In these cases, both groups were African American, though gangs afflict people of all races, depending on each community’s circumstances.
On Lafayette Street in the Park Avenue neighborhood, the youth accosted a white man ó who lived in the area ó and asked what he was doing there before attacking him. In the second case on West Horah Street ó just a few blocks from Livingstone College ó the group robbed a Hispanic man who also lived in that very neighborhood.
So far, Salisbury officers have made only one arrest in the Lafayette Street assault and none in the West Horah incident.
That is discouraging enough.
But Police Chief Mark Wilhelm said he recently learned the victim in the first beating didn’t show up to testify against his attacker. The judge had no choice but to dismiss the charge. Wilhelm said his officers are trying to find the victim and hope to take the case back to a grand jury.
The chief says he doesn’t know why the victim didn’t come to court. But fear certainly could be one reason.
Fear also could be the reason none of the other young thugs has been arrested. People who live in those neighborhoods may be too frightened to come forward.
Dr. Herman Felton, Livingstone’s vice president for institutional development, told City Council members this week that he had no idea a city this small could have a gang problem. But after more research, Felton said, “We believe there’s a vicious cycle prevalent” in the West End community.
Though most youth are not involved in gangs, Chief Wilhelm says many continue to be tantalized by that lawless lifestyle.
“We’ve got to get ourselves busy,” he said. “This will take parents, educators, society as a whole” to make a difference.
The Police Department cannot solve this problem alone, and Wilhelm welcomes Livingstone College to the battle for our youth.

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