Gang-Related Violence Is Growing at Alarming Rate in Territory’s Schools

Gang-related violence, once almost non-existent in V.I. high schools, is increasing at an alarming rate, according to the secondary supervisor of the V.I. Police Department (VIPD) school security unit.

More than 75 parents and teachers came out for a joint Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) meeting on Tuesday evening, March 13, at the Julius E. Sprauve School (JESS) cafeteria to discuss the concerning issue.

Members of the Guy Benjamin School (GBS), Ivanna Eudora Kean High School (IEK), and JESS PTSAs listened to VIPD school security officers detail the rise of gang-related violence in schools.

Neighborhoods Join Together
“One main concern is that these gangs are not directly related to mainland gangs,” said VIPD Cpl. Alvaris Julian. “Usually what you have is someone who goes to the states for a while and comes back with this gang mentality. It’s now spread everywhere, just about.”

Local gangs, or posses, are usually formed along neighborhood lines, Julian explained.

“What you have are communities fighting each other,” he said. “For some of these kids, the reason to go to school is to get into another fight.”

Gang members usually wear matching clothes, which is one way parents can determine if their child is in a posse, according to Julian.

Identifiable Clothes
“These kids all wear the same things,” he said. “We see a group of kids all wearing long white t-shirts and black pants—or long red or black t-shirts with black pants.”

“Watch your children,” Julian continued. “If they are changing into these clothes and wearing the same thing every day, then your child is in a gang—no doubt about it.”

There are a number of reasons that teens join gangs, Julian explained.

“Sometimes they are tired of getting beaten up from other kids,” he said. “They join up with other kids in their neighborhood, and then have 20 kids behind them for the next fight.”

Loyalty is an important aspect of gang mentality, Julian added.

“The gang mentality is to back another member – right or wrong – or the members will turn on you,” he said. “It’s like a brotherhood or something.”

Females Forming Gangs
Boys are not the only ones joining gangs, the VIPD school security officer said.

“Female gangs are starting to pop up now too,” said Julian. “Some of the things that the females have to do in order to join these gangs would make you shake your head in shame. Sometimes they have to have sex with multiple people or commit a crime just to get in.”

Parents should not be afraid to search their children’s school bags and bedrooms, Julian explained.

“If you have a kid in your house and you are paying the rent, you have a right to know what they are doing,” he said. “Check their bags; check their rooms. Once they know that you care, it will make a difference.”

“Pay attention to your kids,” he added.

Teens should know who they can talk to if they are being threatened or pressured to join a gang, said Julian.

“There are officers in their schools and teachers that they can go to,” he said. “We can nip a lot of these problems in the bud if we know what is going on. Talk to your kids so they know who they can talk to.”

Lack of Parental Involvement
Although the meeting was well-attended, most of the audience was made up of IEK, GBS and JESS teachers.

“We have a lot of St. John students who get into trouble everyday,” said Nancy Callwood, chairperson for IEK’s business de-partment. “There is mostly staff at this meeting. We travel all the way out here and there aren’t many parents here.”

“It’s ridiculous that these parents aren’t here,” she continued. “We should make it mandatory that parents come to a meeting.”

Principals don’t have the authority to require that parents attend meetings, according to IEK principal Dr. Sharon McCollum.

“Some parents don’t even pick up their children’s report cards,” she said. “There are mandatory classes for drunk drivers. Maybe we can get some legislation to mandate parental involvement.”

Lack of parental involvement is one reason for the rise in gang-related crimes, according to VIPD school security commander Lt. Lorraine Evans.

“This is why our society is the way that it is,” she said. “We’re ready to defend our children when they are wrong, but we can’t even come to a meeting for positive information. School security involves everyone.”

Prevention Starts at Home
Gang prevention starts at the home, McCollum explained.

“Do you know who calls your house?” she asked. “Your kid is one person when they are home, and a different kid when they are away from you.”

Like neighborhood watches that are forming across the territory, student watches could be implemented also, McCollum added.

“In a community this size which is dependent on tourism, the child you turn your back on may impact the entire community,” she said. “Be vigilant; be watchful. We are all one community and we all have to work together.”

“The bottom line is that it takes a village to raise a child,” GBS PTO president Lorelei Monsanto agreed. “We must communicate with our children.”

Gang-related violence will not go away without action, McCollum added.

“We have a problem here, and it won’t just go away,” she said. “If we don’t attack this problem, it’s going to get bigger.”