TUBA CITY, Ariz. – The message scrawled in black marker on the wall of the boy’s bathroom stall at the Greyhills Academy High School was simple: “Stop claiming black gangs. Rep your own people.”
Unlike most bathroom graffiti, this missive carried a message that was not so different than the one offered during two days of workshops on increased gang activity in Tuba City.
Gary Davis, a prevention specialist with Tuba City Behavioral Health Service, and retired Rapid City, S.D., police officer Capt. Christopher M. Grant provided training for separate groups, including staff, parents and students.
Davis, who is from Tuba City, focused his presentation on bullying – a problem that sometimes leads the victim to suicide. “More than 3 million students are victims of bullying each year.” On any given day 160,000 students across the country cut classes to avoid being bullied or harassed.
“Bullying is harassment,” Davis told students. He said it isn’t always physical, but can include spreading rumors or teasing; even having peer pressure heaped on you can be considered bullying.
Davis said bullying among girls is often more subtle than with boys, who tend to act out physically. But that makes it no less serious.
“Bullying is about power,” he said. The bully targets someone they perceive to be weaker or less confident. Left unchecked, the schoolyard bully can grow to become an abusive parent or seek escape through drugs and alcohol.
“Be part of the solution,” Davis said. “If you see bullying, get help immediately. You might save a life.”
Grant was also interested in saving lives – lives wasted through gang activity. Grant is the former chief of detectives for the Rapid City Police Department’s Criminal Investigation Division and the former commander of the Rapid City Area Gang Task Force. He retired from active law enforcement in 2004 after a 27-year career.
All the students raised a hand when Grant asked who believed gangs were present in their community, most also raised a hand to acknowledge they knew someone involved with a gang; only one hand went up when Grant asked if anyone wanted to admit to being in a gang.
Most people don’t openly admit to being in a gang, Grant said. That’s because most people know it’s the wrong choice. He said some people don’t think gangs are infiltrating small communities like Tuba City, but they are everywhere.
“You can learn to be a gangster here as well as anywhere else,” Grant said. But being an adult means making responsible choices. “Part of being a man is to do respectful things, to make positive choices.”
He said there are about 785,000 gang-involved people in the country, and some 26,000 gangs. The reasons people give for joining aren’t that different: 99 percent say they got involved because an older family member was in one.
Others cite the need for protection, to be part of a family or to be respected.
According to Grant, most people in gangs – including the student who admitted to being in one – say they don’t want younger siblings to follow them in.
And as for protection, he said most gang arrests during his career have been through one gang member “rolling over” to rat on other gang members in exchange for a lesser sentence “The gang’s not your family. Your family is your family.”
Grant said when a person gets involved in a gang, he or she drags others into it. Other siblings, parents and friends can be injured by being in the wrong place at the wrong time.
He said no fit parent is going to be proud to admit their child is a gang member. “Do you think your parents will think you’re successful? ‘Oh, boy, I’m so proud of you, you’re a Blood like I’d always hoped!’ If you’re on this path of behavior, it will lead to nothing positive.”
Donna Tohonnie, a producer at KGHR said the gang awareness training was interesting and enriching. “Mr. Grant covered just about every aspect of the ‘gangster subculture;’ such as the ‘gangster mentality,’ ‘gangster identification’ and, of course, the influences of gangsters.”
Since 1990, Grant has presented gang-awareness training programs to hundreds of law enforcement, educational and civic organizations nationally, and has spoken at numerous regional and national conferences and seminars. In addition to providing training on national gang trends, Grant also specializes in gang awareness training programs dealing with Native involvement in the street and prison gang subculture. He has worked with numerous tribal communities, schools and law enforcement agencies. Grant is also a national gang specialist for the U.S. Department of Justice Gang Resistance Education and Training Program.