Facing a disturbing rise in gang violence, police say enforcement is only part of the problem. Prevention and intervention is important, too, and much of that starts in the community.
Local and federal law enforcement say by the time gang members ink their tattoos and swear their allegiances it’s often too late.
“I was really sucked into it,” a former gang member told News4.
He lived the gang lifestyle for about a decade and can’t reveal his identity for the sake of his and his family’s safety.
“Honestly, when I look back to everything I did, it’s like a big dream,” he said.
He said his past would make you cringe.
The lure of gangs starts young, he said, and he wishes he’d known earlier about people like Father Ramon Dominguez, who has run the Don Bosco Center in Manassas, Virginia, since 2005 to give Hispanic children love and communication and prevent gangs from getting to them first.
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“When the person that’s asking and the person that’s caring is a gang member, then that’s the one that I’ll follow because obviously he’s got my back,” Dominguez said. “When it’s somebody in the community that has positive values and norms, then I say, ‘Hey, there’s something to this here.’”
Dominguez and his team help with job applications and set up college visits for the kids, giving them hope for the future.
“There’s plenty of people out there that will help you,” the former gang member said. “And at the time I didn’t understand that.”
After choosing a different path, he spent years trying to erase his former life.
“When you join a gang, you’re throwing your life away,” he tells young people tempted by the gang lifestyle.