Overcoming denial begins with becoming informed about gang culture activity and membership in your community. For example, some gangs are not considered a threat to the community and so are not targeted by law enforcement or the community for prevention and intervention programs. In reality, these gangs are a potential serious threat because gangs frequently use violence to settle disputes – violence that eventually will affect the community. An honest community assessment identifies these types of gangs, and potential future problems.
A collaborative approach that stresses partnerships between concerned individuals, community organizations and government agencies is often the best solution. Collaborative approaches usually involve the police, schools, churches, local government, parks and recreation, community-based organizations, businesses and programs working with parents and youth.
An effective strategy deals with gang problems on three levels: prevention, intervention and suppression. Prevention programs or measures focus on youth before they are involved in gangs to help steer them away from gang involvement. Intervention approaches focus on helping young people get out and stay out of gangs. Suppression efforts are designed to protect the public from violent and criminal gang activities. All three approaches are necessary in order to address the different degrees to which youth become attracted to, involved in or threatened by gangs.
It is important not to wait for violence to occur. Family and community members should take action at the first sign of gangs in a community. Many times these signs are overlooked because they are not considered to be gang-related or a threat to the community. These signs can include, but are not limited to, graffiti vandalism, petty thefts, fights at school and delinquent behaviors. Many gangs evolve through a maturing process. When gangs first form, they usually do not immediately engage in drive-by shootings, robberies and murders. It takes time for gangs to develop a reputation on the streets. It is during this time that prevention, intervention and supppression programs have the greatest impact. Yet, because of denial, all too often this opportunity is missed. Many programs that target gang activity sometimes begin only after a major incident, such as a death or a shooting.
Once people come together, an assessment of the level of gang problems in the community will help answer many questions like: How many gangs are in my community? What kind of gangs? What types of problems are associated with the gangs in my community? Are the gang problems new and emerging, or have they been entrenched and steadily growing? When the answers to these questions are completed, you and other concerned community members will have a better foundation to develop solutions to those problems.