Parents Hear Straight Talk About Gangs
By Marsha Sereno
The subject of "Gang Awareness" was the evening’s special topic of discussion. The dynamic duo of Youth Officers Jim Johnson and James Davis reached out to the audience in a manner which not only educated them but provided a great sense of hope for the future of the Canarsie community as well.
Officer Johnson enlightened the crowd about things which identified gangs: specific colors, their "flags" (bandanas), jewelry, brand name clothing with which gangs identify to carry their messages, special greetings and handshakes. He went on to explain that youngsters, like adults, respond to peer pressure. "Even adults, "he said," join groups to be with people with a common goal." "Kids don’t join gangs to be vicious," he stated, "but they wind up being with people who are vicious and who have no communication."
Citing one of the key problems that leave youth open and vulnerable to the "glamour" and enticement of gang membership, Officer Johnson declared, "The dedication to the gang is in proportion to the lack of communication at home." He emphasized to parents the need to speak with their children and not at them. "Equally important", he continued, "is the need to really listen to your children. Be aware of what they’re doing."
Officer Johnson expressed his understanding of the difficulties of child rearing in both single and two parent families and urged parents in the midst of their quest to "make a living" but to "make the time" to spend with their children in some form of activity.
Youth Officer James Davis, believing that more can be achieved with an open hand than a clenched fist, proudly added, "The 69th Precinct is practicing prevention, not apprehension. It’s better to react when there’s’s smoke - not when there’s fire."
Officers Johnson and Davis make presentations at Elementary and High Schools to discuss the consequences of gang involvement and dispel common beliefs about what gangs offer. On the topic of alternatives to gang membership, Officer Johnson was clear,
"You can’t tell them to come out without having somewhere for them to go."
At present, the 69th Precinct offers a number of programs in which the youth of the community can not only make friends and enjoy themselves, but learn new skills, channel their energy in positive productive ways and enrich their community as well: the 69th Pct. Explorers, the Explorers’ Choir and the Step Squad (drill team).
Precinct Commander Captain Jeannine Jennette expressed her pride in the work being done by her command to reach out to the community. She attributed the success of their programs to the open lines of communication between the different offices, both inside and outside of the precinct. She went on to say that increased police presence in the community has contributed to the decline of gang activity. Contrary to the belief by some in the audience, gang members are given more than a slap on the wrist when the occasion calls for it. "We provide outreach and counseling programs" she said. "We send some of the kids upstate to facilities when necessary and charge parents with neglect when they don’t cooperate with authorities."
Captain Jennette also announced the formation of the newly founded Clergy Council. She described a close rapport she has developed with many of the community’s clergy of all demonstrations and explained that all clergy members of the Canarsie Community would be welcomed with open arms to join in the team effort to enrich the community.