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Info session aims to help Delta parents keep kids away from gangs

North Delta Reporter - 5/31/2019

By Haley Gagnaux for the North Delta Reporter

What is it about gang life that attracts youth, and how can we prevent it from happening?

On Thursday, May 23, the Delta School District hosted a free gang prevention information session at Seaquam Secondary to help parents answer those questions and more.

Rob Rai of Safer Schools Together — who has worked across North America studying gangs — spoke first, explaining that it is not always a lack of love that drives kids to join gangs.

He said that studies have found there are three main things that youth who turned to gang life had in common: depression, too much free time and exhibitions of gang or gang-like behaviour in the family, adding that things such as joining an organized sports team or a group activity could help keep kids on the straight and narrow.

But why join gangs if kids know it's a bad thing? Many kids are unaware that they are being recruited, Rai said, as there is no mention of a gang while it's happening. An easy opportunity to make money is presented, and then the recruiters use manipulation to convince their target that they owe a debt that has to be repaid.

Also, when the gang member knows the location where the child lives, they may use this information to threaten the lives of family members in order to push the recruit into doing what they want them to, whether that be selling drugs or committing other crimes.

In the last five years, Rai said, the average age of gang members killed has dropped alarmingly, from 28 to 23. Kids as young as 15 are being recruited for gangs, and the majority of the targets are young males.

Rai said it's important that kids have supportive relationships with adults.

"An average adolescent male needs two healthy relationships with adults. Females need six," Rai said. "Never underestimate the value of a relationship with a mom and a dad, and for boys, especially dad."

Joe Calendino shares his story of how he fell in with the Hells Angels during a gang prevention information session hosted by the Delta School District at Seaquam Secondary on Thursday, May 23. (Haley Gagnaux photo)

Joe Calendino, executive director and co-founder of Yo Bro | Yo Girl Youth Initiative, spoke about his past experiences as a member of the Hells Angels and about how difficult it is to get out once you're in a gang. The bottom line, he said, is that in most cases you either end up "addicted, in prison or dead," adding how lucky he was that he managed to get out.

When the floor was opened up for questions, one parent asked what warning signs to look out for that may indicate their child is involved in gang life. Rai said there were quite a few — for example, a shift in friends or a shift in behaviour, a job that takes them out of the house for abnormally long periods of time, as well as unexplained large sums of money.

He also pointed out flip phones, asking the audience, "Give me one reason here why anybody in 2019 will have a flip phone. … If your child has a flip phone, they are in a gang."

Rai's last suggestion for things to look out for was Skip the Dishes delivery bags, which he said have been known to be used as excuses when a gang member is questioned by police as to why they're driving in circles around the same neighbourhood.

Jennifer Wilson, who has a daughter in Grade 8, said she came out to Thursday night's meeting because she "believes that as parents we are responsible for all the young people that are involved in our community.

"I need to know as much as possible, not just to keep my own daughter safe, but the students that are a part of our lives and involved in the whole school district."