Gang Prevention

For Solomon A. Quick, Winston-Salem Police Department’s Gang Reduction Specialist, prevention and intervention are the keys to providing positive alternatives to the dangerous fantasy of gang life in Winston-Salem.

Quick defines a gang as “two or more individuals who have come together to engage in criminal activity in furtherance of the gang.” It can supply the feelings of belonging, identity, discipline and kinship by providing a false sense of security and filling existing voids in other areas of individuals’ lives.

However, according to Quick, “gangs do three things: lie, steal, and destroy. They provide a false sense of reality, steal individuals’ identity, and destroy their opportunities and long-term life trajectory.”

In Winston-Salem, there are between 700 and 800 validated gang members classified by law enforcement officials. Gangs attract men and women from all ethnicities, socio-economic status, and backgrounds.  “It doesn’t matter the neighborhood,” Quick explains. “If you have the risk factors, you’re going to have gang issues.” These factors include, but are not limited to, oppression, marginalization, poverty, peer pressure, a need for belonging, and loss of hope. While sixty percent of are between the ages of 18 and 24, in some cases Quick has seen third, fourth, and fifth graders fall victim to gang life and has even heard of others joining as young as kindergarten.

While the needs they seek are universal, the danger occurs when an individual’s membership becomes the means by which he or she operates. “This transition is coming from the inside-out; it begins to define you as a person,” Quick states. “All of us want to be a part of something. If you don’t have positive reinforcement, you’ll take what’s available.”

According to the City of Winston-Salem’s website regarding gang prevention, “there are a variety of reasons for joining, but once a person realizes that those needs can be met in other ways, the gang may lose its appeal.”

“I’m a big idle-time eliminator,” Quick adds. “90% is intervention and prevention, providing them with positive alternatives. While prevention refers to reducing and redirecting, intervention is infinitely more labor-intensive. What people need to realize is that their intelligence level is extremely high; but just imagine, if you focus on positive exposure, love of learning, and positive examples, you can chip away at the gang subculture.”

For many, the exit strategy occurs when something becomes too painful within the gang subculture, such as the scarring memory of a lost friend or witnessing the death of a loved one.  In this case, “the individual needs to be brought back to who they are and reminded that it’s not their fault; to give them the freedom to grieve and let loose of pain,” Quick states. “The difficulty of redirecting is stripping away who they are,” Quick admits.

“We recognize we have to find a way to reach these kids and adults.” Whether it is the implementation of extracurricular programs or the organization of church-based sports teams, “it’s all about presentation, to make it different from what they’ve already heard,” he says.

However, one challenge of stepping away is that there are often negative repercussions. Quick recalls an interaction with a young man looking for an escape route who articulated a common reality: “I’ve still got to live in my neighborhood.”

At Southside Rides, Dave Moore’s program for recently incarcerated and at-risk youth is a positive outlet for both prevention and intervention. “The best thing Dave does is provide hope for alternative ways of sustaining themselves financially; he gives them something to look forward to every day,” Quick states. “For those who want the help, Southside Rides is probably one of the best things to experience or be around.”

Furthermore, many of Dave’s clients fail to have sustaining relationships with their fathers or lack a prominent male father-figure in their lives. Quick reports that close to ninety percent of all members involved come from single parent homes. As a result, Dave is a “really good substitute…a beam of light for those guys,” Quick says.  Above all, he argues that relationships ultimately facilitate an individual’s removal from gang life.

Calling Southside Rides a “ministry to help kids and adults get back on track,” Solomon Quick’s team believes that Dave Moore should have the full support of Winston-Salem: “we’re trying to give him wings to fly.”

-- Alex Azzara