Parents yesterday learned some of the tell-tale signs that their child is involved with gangs, and they learned it from school resource officers who are on the front lines everyday.
The Toledo police officers, who are stationed at schools, have become experts in gang activity and in the subtle colors or symbols students wear to show support for one gang or another. Wearing the symbols and colors are against school rules.
Officer Bill Michalski said gang activity was a part of the North Toledo riot last year that made international news. The violence broke out after a neo-Nazi march was canceled and resulted in a business being burned and other vandalism.
"They say [gang activity] is just kids being kids until the bar is burned and the car gets turned over," he said. "I have kids at the junior-high level who are tattooing themselves."
The lesson in gang symbols came at the 6th annual Parents' Summit that focused on safety in schools. As many as 75 parents attended the early two-hour session before noon at the Waite Brand Auditorium, 1600 Summit St.
The tattoos, T-shirts, even rap-style recordings that brag about a gang's toughness are circulating in the community and at schools. Parents need to listen to their children's music and not allow them to show support for a gang through the clothes they wear, the officers said yesterday.
The officers said they confiscate T-shirts and have become aware of the more subtle ways some students have devised to show gang support. The major gangs are Crips and Bloods, with a multitude of subsects. One student pulled his hooded sweatshirt draw string all the way to one side. That was his way to show support for a gang.
"You have to really be attentive to what these kids wear," Officer John Taylor said. "They are still trying to get away with it in a subtle manner."
One student shaved one of his eyebrows in a certain way, another group wore white T-shirts, even though that is not traditionally a gang symbol. Calvin Klein T-shirts that show the initials CK (Crip killer) are popular, as is the opposing British Knights clothing brand with the initials BK (Blood killer) the officers said.
Another trend is the formation of female gangs. They are calling themselves "squads" and tend to fight others in groups, where the fights are lopsided. Male gang members tend to have one-on-one showdowns when there is physical violence, the officer said.
The main message was for parents to spend time with their children and to notice what they are doing, what they are wearing, and what music they like.
"You have to be active with your child," Officer Taylor said. "The attention you don't give your child, someone else will."
Contact Christopher D. Kirkpatrick at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6077.