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Columbia needs to act on gangs

Friday, June 29, 2007 | 12:02 a.m. CDT; updated 11:31 a.m. CDT, Friday, May 8, 2009

Let me tell you a story. In 1980, I purchased a home in Denver. Knowing that the primary three rules for buying a home are Location, Location, Location and that the “renaissance wave” was moving.

I took a leap of faith and bought about five blocks beyond the breakers.

It was a small home in a mixed neighborhood.

Americans of African and of Spanish decent, new immigrants, middle and lower income; blue and white collar — you get the picture.

I lived across from a black Baptist church, three blocks from a Denver police substation

and four blocks from a golf course. It was wonderful and I knew all of my neighbors.

In 1981, Denver’s mayor, Bill McNichols, declared that there were “no street gangs in Denver.” If there were groups, according to the official line, they were only wannabes and the citizens of the Mile High City should not be concerned. Weasel words. Denials. Sound familiar?

The mayor lied. How do I know? My home was burglarized three times in four years and each time the culprits left their marks, the tags of the Blood and the Crips. My neighbors’ homes were burglarized or vandalized. The church was burglarized. By the Blood and the Crips. The neighborhood was a proving ground for the wannabes.

Denver was riddled with tags, all from “groups that are not gangs.” The writing was on the walls — and windows and in the alleys of Denver. Other groups began to appear — Latinos, Vietnamese, white supremacists, and, the most notorious of all, the Jamaicans. Nevertheless, in 1986 the city’s propaganda machine said there was still no gang problem in Denver.

After my second burglary, I attempted to sell my home but the neighborhood was scarred and considered too dangerous. Frightened and depressed, I started carrying a handgun full time, before Colorado’s concealed weapon and “Make My Day” laws.

After the third break-in, I could not live there any longer and abandoned my home to the bank. It sat empty for another three years.

In 1988, eight years after the mayor’s denials, Denver organized an Urban Crime Task Force, more weasel words, words denying the existence of a major problem. Finally, in 1993, Denver reorganized the task force into the Gang Bureau. Too little, too late.

It all started with a denial of gang activity to protect economic growth. Denver used weasel words to hide the serious problem of gang violence in the Queen City of the Plains. Prospective businesses could not know Denver had a problem with gangs. They were only groups. Denver had stuck its collective head in the sand.

Today, there are over 20 identified gangs in Denver. They are from every group you can imagine, from the Aryan Brotherhood (Anglo), to the Hit Man Posse (Jamaican), to the Bitch Possee (The Crips’ female arm). They are very real and very dangerous.

Not long after moving to Columbia, I met a city official and asked about the gang graffiti I noticed. The mantra was “no gang problem here,” that it was just a bunch of wannabes. I heard the same line from a Columbia police officer while standing next to Blood graffiti on a trash container. Even today, the official line is that Columbia has no gang problem regardless of the shootings, break-ins and robberies.

Columbia has its head stuck deep in the sand, denying that gangs exist in our fair city. My source is gangsorus.com, which identifies at least 13 known gangs in St. Louis and Kansas City. I have identified at least three in Columbia.

Ask the kids. They are here and they are dangerous.

Yes, they are wannabes but are more dangerous than regular gang members. Like minor-league baseball players, they want to be noticed, accepted into the big leagues. Their illicit activities will become more numerous and violent as the economy stagnates and the heat continues to rise. More cars will be stolen, more homes burglarized and more people assaulted.

Columbia needs to recognize the problem NOW, though we may be too late. The city must be honest and take immediate action or the wave may crash in on our collective heads. Hard.

David Rosman is a business and political communications consultant, professional speaker and instructor at Columbia College. He welcomes your comments at ProfDave1011@netscape.net.


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