Law enforcement officers statewide are trying to get a handle on the rapidly growing gang problem in South Carolina and the violence and crimes associated with gang activity.
South Carolina Department of Corrections Inspector General Jerry Adger provided opening remarks for the agency’s gang conference in Columbia Monday. He says years ago many associated gang activity with large urban areas like Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. But he says residents now have to come to grips with the fact that gangs are just about everywhere including the cities and rural areas of South Carolina.
“We just didn’t think that was something that would ever come to South Carolina,” he told South Carolina Radio Network. “But as people migrate back and forth and you have people that have been incarcerated from different places, they bring everything with them. It was just a matter of time before all of this stuff comes across the country.”
The U.S. Justice Department estimates that there are nearly 28,000 gangs with over 700,000 members affecting communities all over the country.
Adger says recruitment efforts by gangs are growing their number exponentially across the nation, including South Carolina. Adger believes that for many young people gang membership fills a void in their lives.
“I personally believe that the breakdown of the family has really been that breeding ground for gang recruitment simply because these kids are not being supervised,” he said. “They are out there in the streets after school not having much activity going on and they get caught up into that kind of stuff.”
Adger says young males are not the only ones being recruited, as record numbers of young women and girls are now participating in gang activity.
Adger says that it is important to note that for many young people fear drives them to give their allegiance to a gang.
“If you live in a neighborhood where you’re not safe, you don’t feel safe, how do you become safe? You become safe by joining a gang that tells you ‘we will protect you.’ That is yet another serious issue as it relates to the increased number of young people that are involved in gang activity. They feel that they don’t have a choice.”
Adger says gangs have been around for a long time and young children are being recruited, in fact for some gang life has become a “family tradition.”
“I’ve seen photos of young people that are five and six years old wearing their gang colors, standing there with weapons in their hands. So they are being trained through family dynamics as well. You have these traditional families that have bought into the gangs and they train their young people to become gangbangers.”