Youth called on to fight gang activity

Friday, July 25, 2003
By TARA GRASSIA, Staff Writer (Courtesy Today's Sunbeam)

New Prosecutor John Lenahan (right) is joined by (left to right) Salem Police Officer Robert Eller, Acting Police Chief Ronald Sorrell and Mayor Earl Gage. Photo courtesy Lori M. Nichols/Today's Sunbeam

SALEM -- In an effort to curtail gang-related crime, the new Youth Task Force is attempting to reach out to young people in Salem City and work with them to successfully combat activity that would lead them on the wrong path and provide them with positive outlets.

The task force was designed as a response to the ideas exchanged at the Gang Awareness Forum held at Salem High School on July 8 and was originally named the Gang Task Force but was renamed Thursday night to better reflect its mission to focus on all youth within Salem.

Mayor Earl Gage said the purpose of the task force is to work with the police, Salem County Prosecutor's Office and Salem Board of Education as a citizens group in an attempt to confront gang-related issues before they begin.

"We are not to act as police officers, but to find things for kids to do and help people understand what gangs are," Gage said. "We need to first recognize the problem and secondly, we have to do something about it. We need to fill their lives with something other than the need to be a member of a gang."

He added that he doesn't think the task force will be able to solve or define all the issues, but it does have to try and find answers as to how to prevent further incidents from occurring.

Thursday night the task force discussed ideas ranging from where the problems stem, what is needed within the city so local youth does not turn to gangs for acceptance, how things can change, what is currently available, how other cities are battling gang problems and how to reach out to teens and their parents and get them involved.

Karen Roots said "we have to have a sound structure that can educate them and provide them with structure because they are our future."

Sherman Hampton, agreed and stated that the task force needs to look at the younger adults that kids can identify with as a source of help.

"I think if we have younger people at the forefront we'll have success," said Hampton. "One thing's for sure, we cannot give up on any kid."

Salem City Chief of Police Ronald Sorrell said that there needs to be input from people of all ages and backgrounds.

"We have to educate ourselves first before we can educate others," he said. "I think reaching out to other towns is important."

With all of these ideas incorporated, the task force decided that before the next meeting, its members will look at success models in other cities with gang problems, identify the different venues of activities currently available within Salem and reach out to the youth for their opinions as well as those of the parents and other residents.

Gage said that this is not just the police's problem, but the community's as a whole to prevent and control gang activity. He added that the community needs a sampling of the residents to address concerns.

The task force is welcoming local youth to bring their ideas to the table and will meet again Sept. 11. For interest and information please call 935-0373.

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