According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's 2011 National Gang Threat Assessment, "approximately 1.4 million gang members belonging to more than 33,000 gangs were criminally active in the U.S. as of April, 2011." This statistic is especially apparent in Memphis, where rates of violent crime among youth continue to remain high. Many of these violent crimes involving youth are gang-related, with the Shelby County Sheriff's department reporting the identification of 8,400 gang members involved in 182 gangs and gang sets within Shelby County.
Some of the more notorious gangs originated in Los Angeles, like the Crips and Bloods. L.A. has a long history of gangs and gang violence, and some of the gangs from L.A. have taken hold in Memphis. Over the last couple of years, though, Los Angeles has had some success in reducing the number of violent acts committed by gangs.
Guillermo Cespedes is the Deputy Mayor of Los Angeles. He heads the city’s gang intervention program. He’s worked four decades fighting gang violence, first as a social worker, and since 2007 as the Deputy Mayor.
It seems that we can’t go a week without a murder in Memphis, and so far this year, more than 140 people have died. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, homicide is the second leading cause of death for teenagers. And for young black male teens, it is the leading cause. In Memphis, agencies across the city strive to put a halt to the violence. And in North Frayser, Joe Hunter provides guidance to troubled youth after school and during times of darkness.
As WKNO continues its series “Gangs in the City,” recruitment into gangs – from the highly organized and established gangs to the more disorganized neighborhood sets – continues on the streets, in schools and through the media. Eva Miller taught at Sheffield High, where many students live in abject poverty. The former English teacher quietly continues her calling – that started 25 years ago. It’s called Knight Life, a ministry that offers young people other options.
WKNO continues its series “Gangs in the City.” The Mathis twins have survived gang life on the mean streets of North Memphis, but just barely. Now, the twins are 28, but when they were younger they used to terrorize their neighborhood. Now they spend their days inside high schools and community centers showing young people that gang life is a one-way street to nowhere.