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Anti-Gang workshop held at Greyhills Academy High School

By John Christian Hopkins
Tuba City, Arizona (NFIC) 2-09

The message scrawled in black marker on the wall of the boy’s bathroom stall at the Greyhills Academy High School was simple: “Stop claiming black gangs. Rep. your own people.”

Unlike most bathroom graffiti, this missive carried a message that was not so different than the one offered during two days of workshops on increased gang activity in Tuba City.

Gary Davis, a prevention specialist with Tuba City Behavioral Health Service, and retired Rapid City, S. D., police officer Capt. Christopher M. Grant provided training for separate groups, including staff, parents and male and female students.

Davis, who is from Tuba City, focused his presentation on bullying – a problem that sometimes leads the victim to escape through suicide.

“More than 3 million students are victims of bullying each year,” Davis said.

On any given day 160,000 students across the country cut classes to avoid being bullied or harassed, he added.

“Bullying is harassment,” Davis told male students during a Jan. 27 presentation. It was the same message he had shared with female students at an earlier session.

Bullying isn’t always physical, but can include spreading rumors or teasing as well, he added. Having peer pressure heaped on you can be bullying, too, Davis said.

In fact, bullying among girls is often more subtle than with boys, who tend to act out physically, Davis said. But that makes it no less a serious problem.

“Bullying is about power,” Davis said. The bully targets someone they perceive to be weaker or less confident, he said.

Left unchecked, the schoolyard bully can grow to become an abusive parent or seek escape through drugs and alcohol, Davis said.

“Be part of the solution,” Davis said. “If you see bullying, get help immediately. You might save a life.”

Grant was also interested in saving lives – lives wasted through gang activity. Grant is the former chief of detectives of the Rapid City Police Department's Criminal Investigation Division and the former commander of the Rapid City Area Gang Task Force. He retired from active law enforcement in 2004 after a 27-year career

All the students raised a hand when Grant asked who believed gangs were present in their community, most also raised a hand to acknowledge that they knew someone who was involved with a gang; only one hand went up when Grant asked if anyone wanted to admit to being in a gang.

Most people don’t openly admit to being in a gang, Grant said. That’s because most people know it’s the wrong choice, he added.

Some people don’t think gangs are infiltrating small communities, like Tuba City, but they are everywhere, Grant said.

“You can learn to be a gangster here as well as anywhere else,” Grant said.

But being an adult means making responsible choices, he said.

“Part of being a man is to do respectful things, to make positive choices,” Grant told the male students.

There are about 785,000 gang-involved people in the country, and some 26,000 different gangs, Grant said. The reasons people give for joining aren’t that different: 99 percent say they got involved because an older family member was in one, he said.

Others cite the need for protection, to feel like being part of a family or to be respected.

Most people in gangs – including the one student who raised his hand earlier – say they don’t want younger siblings to follow them in, Grant said.

And as for being protection, Grant said most of the gang arrests during his career have been through one gang member “rolling over” to rat on other gang members in exchange for a lesser sentence for themselves.

“The gang’s not your family,” Grant said. “Your family is your family.”

When a person gets involved in a gang, he or she drags others into it, Grant said. Other siblings, parents and friends can be injured by being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.

No fit parent is going to be proud to admit their child is a gang member, he added.

“Do you think your parents will think you’re successful?” Grant asked. “‘Oh, boy, I’m so proud of you, you’re a Blood, like I’d always hoped’! If you’re on this path of behavior, it will lead to nothing positive.”

Sararesa B. Hopkins, general manager of the KGHR-FM public radio station located at Greyhills, encouraged her staff to attend the workshop and make themselves more aware of this issue.

“I want my staff to be responsible and be aware of the kind of music they are playing and the messages it may be sending,” Hopkins said.

The gang awareness training was interesting and enriching to the fullest, said Donna Tohonnie, a producer at KGHR.

“Mr. Grant covered just about every aspect of the ‘gangster subculture; such as the ‘gangster mentality,’ ‘gangster identification’ and, of course, the influences of gangsters,” Tohonnie said.

One thing that was very notable was the stereotype usage within the boundaries of the school, community and people, Tohonnie added.

Since 1990, Grant has presented gang-awareness training programs to hundreds of law enforcement, educational and civic organizations nationally, and he has spoken at numerous regional and national conferences and seminars. In addition to providing training regarding national gang trends, Grant also specializes in gang awareness training programs dealing with Native American involvement in the street and prison gang subculture. He has worked with numerous tribal communities, schools and law enforcement agencies in this regard.

Grant is also a national gang specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice Gang Resistance Education and Training Program (G.R.E.A.T.).