FORT WAYNE, Ind. (www.incnow.tv) --- According to FBI statistics, in 2011 there were 1.4 million active street, prison, and outlaw gang members in the United States.
Their influence has been on display in recent months right here in Fort Wayne.
In a special report titled, “The Anatomy of Gangs”, we looked at the misery they can cause, and what some individuals and agencies are doing to try and keep local kids from being sucked in.
City police say of the 13 homicides they've worked so far this year for the purpose of identifying suspects, at least five of them are believed to be gang-related.
" You see how anger goes back to everything, all the shootings, killings."
Trying to fix what's broken.
Foundation One used to run the streets, even took a bullet in the stomach as a wayward teen.
At Smith Academy for Excellence on April 22nd, we caught up with Foundation One as he preached to 7th grade boys the need to be strong in saying no to gangs and no to anger that often triggers street violence.
At one point, he challenged a boy to a push-up contest.
The boy was the first to collapse in fatigue.
" What’s wrong, you see you’re weak, brother, and it's your weakness that's going to get you. There is a war out there, and you aren't prepared. You’re all mouth, all of you are all mouth," Foundation One said.
" He's just giving his own testimony and his own background, and showing you that this might look cool right here, but in the long run, it's not going to look good," said Aaron Staten, a 9th grader at the school, who attended a series of instructional sessions on gangs, led by Foundation One.
" It's serious out there. There's so many mothers that hate to see their sons leave their house, because they think they're going to get killed and not come back," Foundation One said.
It was back in February when we rode with members of the Fort Wayne Police Gang Unit, who keep an eye on and the heat on some of the city's street gangs.
" You can search me real good," said a suspect pulled over during a traffic stop.
" We can search you real good? Okay," fired back Tom Strausborger, who runs the gang unit.
Besides that unit, the FBI heads up what's called the Safe Streets Task Force.
The Allen County Sheriff's Department is one of the agencies that dedicates officers to the special patrols.
Chief Deputy Dave Gladieux is convinced you can't let gangs gain a foothold.
" You could take the attitude of well, you know, they shoot each other up, big deal, but what about those bullets that don't hit them and they go in and they hit a three-year old in the living room of the house next door. These gang members don't even think about it, they don't care," said Gladieux, who expects we’ll see more intensive patrols this summer, traditionally a time when gangs flex their muscles even more.
If you drive through the streets of Fort Wayne, you can see gang symbols written on buildings all over the place.
Given the dangerous nature of life in a gang, why is it that so many kids get drawn in?
Psychologist Dr. Stephen Ross says kids sometimes join, because they feel unsafe.
Their new partners in crime, he says, can offer them a sense of protection from a host of threats.
Also, there's the benefit of feeling accepted, and if joining thrusts them into the war zone, so be it.
" They know that and they want that, as much as they want to stay alive, but they also know that their self-esteem and their pride is so built on killing and getting hurt,” Dr. Ross said.
“ It's like the ultimate thing for the gang, I died for the gang. Not that they're actually going out and trying to get shot, but they're putting themselves in situations where it's going to happen, and then they become a legend."
Fort Wayne police officials estimate about 400 young people have ties to the local gang culture.
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