By Sheriff Eric J. Levett
Gangs are morphing, multiplying, migrating and entrenching themselves in our Rockdale County communities. They are selling drugs to our kids, shooting up our neighborhoods, invading our homes, robbing our banks and stores, stealing our identities, our money, and instilling fear and violence everywhere they go.
Parents, I challenge you to get more involved with your children and be a positive role model and set the right example. Take a firm stand against illegal activity. Spend quality time with your child. Let him or her know that you care. Try to really listen to your child, offer praise when appropriate and give affection. You must be a good observer of their behavior and what influences them. If the family is the source of love, guidance, and protection that youths seek, they are not forced to search for these basic needs from a gang.
Gangs are primarily created to suppress one’s insecurity of their life and to gain back-up when back-up is needed. A sense of belonging, acceptance and loyalty. Gangs may offer a sense of identity to their members and a way to gain attention or status. Kids who do not have strong ties to their families, communities, schools or places of worship may turn to gangs for companionship and as a substitute family. Companionship, training, excitement, and activities. Gang members, recruiters and the media glamorize the gang lifestyle. They prey on children who lack a positive support system at home.
We have an alarming amount of active gang members in more than 13 gangs in the Rockdale County. Over 40% of these members are children under the age of 18, and almost a quarter are female. Gangs are highly prevalent throughout the county, and they actively recruit members as young as 9 years old every day. We must stay vigilant to keep our children away from gangs.
If your child is in a gang you will need to talk to your child but this could be a tricky conversation; they may be scared or unwilling to talk about it. It is important that they know that you want to listen and support them. It is also important to be clear that your child does have a choice even when they think they may not; they don’t have to follow the crowd.
Your approach will be more effective if you: stay calm and rational, no matter how upset you are; ask questions, rather than making accusations or rash statements; listen carefully to what they say without interrupting them; really try to understand the situation from their point of view and why they have joined the gang; ask them what you can do to help, rather than telling them what they have to do; point out the risks and consequences of carrying, or worse still using a gun or a knife (remember that many people who are hurt by guns or knives have their own weapon used against them); try to come up with an agreement on what to do next; and work with them to find alternatives to being in the gang.
The Gang Task Force at the Rockdale County Sheriff’s Office spend countless hours putting plans in place to get violent gang members off the streets. Ray Avery, 19, Miles Griggs, 19, Brandon Mike, 18, Emmanuel Montgomery, 19, Lenny Mejias, 21, Damani Jovan Teague, 18, Olufemi E. Akporido, 18, and Aaron Huff, 18, have all been arrested on gang-related activity this year in Rockdale County. All these teens and young adults are members of gangs, with charges from robbery, aggravated assault, illegal sale of drugs and firearms to entering auto, burglary and affray.
In Rockdale County, we are not going to tolerate any type of gang violence. If you come into Rockdale County and enter our cars or steal our cars, burglarize our homes, rob our businesses, sell our children drugs and illegal firearms, assault innocent people, we are going to find you.
Throughout each month, the clerk of courts, tax commissioner, sheriff and probate judge—Rockdale’s elected constitutional officers—discuss topics relevant to their respective roles