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Program preaches anti-gang message

By Shelley Smith
ssmith@salisburypost.com
SALISBURY ó Rowan County Sheriffís Deputy Scott Flowers said that when he checks the jail log after arresting a gang member, he never sees listings for visits by fellow gang members.
Only family members visit the gang members in jail. So much for the fellowship among gang members, he explained.
ěA lot of the times when we go arrest a gang member, the rest of the members are gone ó they scatter like cockroaches,î he said to a group of eighth-graders at Erwin Middle School.
ěSo donít tell me you need to join a gang for family, for a sense of unity,î he said to the students. ěTo me, itís a false family and a false sense of respect.î
Flowers was hand-picked by Rowan County Sheriff Kevin Auten to lead a gang-prevention program at middle schools across Rowan, an initiative that began in February and has picked up enough speed to be continued again next year.
ěWe picked Scott when he was coming back from missionary work with the church,î Auten said. ěI knew we wanted to start the program, and I envisioned Scott doing it based on his time as a resource officer.
ěHe generally cares and has concerns for the kids, and he connects.î
Flowers has been traveling to the health classes of all middle schools, basing his interactive presentations on a similar program in Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools ó Gang of One ó whose mission is to ěprevent youth from joining gangs, support youth being pressured to join a gang, and assist youth in getting out of a gang.î
ěTo me, I think itís important to have resource officers in the middle schools,î Flowers said. ěBecause sixth-graders are still very impressionable, very reachable. The older you get, the less reachable you are.
ěAnd by the time you reach eighth grade, you know who youíre going to hang out with.î
Flowers said some schools are more aware of gang problems, and some students are ěclueless.î
ěBeing involved with gangs has become a norm depending on what part of the county youíre in,î he said.
The gang prevention class is interactive, sort of a question-and-answer presentation.
Flowers asks the students to define a gang, why people join gangs, if theyíve been approached to join a gang, or ways to say no to a gang member when they are asked to join.
ěIíve seen a few people that I always ask that question, ëHave you been approached to be part of a gang?í and you see a few that raise their hands,î Flowers said. ěThe way they respond, you can tell they know more than just a general knowledge. But thatís been very few that I have come in contact with.î
Flowers said he had to stop the class and have a serious discussion with the students when four sixth-graders raised their hands to tell them they knew someone who was killed in gang-related violence.
ěItís here,î he said he told the class. ěLife changes when you make those decisions, and it affects those around you. You start hanging out with them, you change, and people can see that change in you. Weíve got to make the right decisions, guys.î
Although middles schools no longer have school resource officers, Auten and Flowers hope the program will keep a law enforcement presence in the schools, and develop positive relationships between officers and students, and provide them with guidance.
ěIf you would have asked me five years ago if there is a gang problem in Rowan County, I would have said no,î Flowers told the group at Erwin. ěI didnít see it, so to me, it wasnít a problem. I began to change my attitude on that.
ěTheyíre here in our communities. We may not see it, but itís like that stone that gets in your shoe… Youíre too busy playing and you donít want to stop the game. And you keep playing, and you keep playing, and you play through the pain. And you go home and take your shoe off, and either your footís cut and bloody, or you have a blister.î
Flowers said gangs are like the stone ó you donít realize itís a problem until itís too late.
ěEvery decision that you make impacts your life,î he said. ěWe have one life. There are no re-doís.
ěWhat is your life going to be? How will people remember you?î

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