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Gangs can be stopped
Meetings Feb, 9 puts out information
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“Hopefully parents and community members will take a more active role in stepping up and saying we’re tired of this stuff happening in our community and we want to take our community back.”
Although jovial and calm in his manner, Snelson-Golden Middle School principal Dr. Chris Garretson makes it clear he is serious about one thing — working to halt local gang activity.
“The gang problem in this community has been around for quite a while ... for a long time they were really quiet and low-key about things,” the former Bradwell Institute assistant principle said. “Within the last year or year and a half, however, they have started popping up on a frequent basis and being very noticeable.”
Spurred to action by the increasingly brazen display of gang activity throughout Liberty County, Garretson’s SGMS School Council and the Hinesville Police Department will host a community-wide gang awareness meeting on the campus from 6- 8 p.m. Tuesday.
Members of the Hinesville Police Department, including HPD Gang Intelligence Officer Tracey Howard, will present information concerning the history of gangs, gangs’ influence on the county and signs and symbols of gang activity.
According to Garretson, the goal of the session is to educate and create greater awareness within the county’s adult population, especially parents.
“I know that our parents care a great deal about their children and I think that this is another way to help them recognize what can take place in their own backyard,” he said.
Unfortunately, lack of awareness from parents has left it up to local schools to handle the problem.

On campus
While signs of gang activity can be seen in many of the schools, some in the community have assessed SGMS’ gang problem to be the worst in the county. Garretson, however, sees it differently.
“I don’t think we’re the worst, but we’re the ones that are most vocal about seeing things,” he said. “We’re not here to hide anything or cover anything up. We’re going to tell you we have the problem in the school and we know it’s here.”
As proof of the school's policy of openly discussing gang activity around the campus, the principal said some mornings students start their day with somewhat of a gang report.
“We’ve made several folks upset because we have certain days when we'll see, for example, black pants and white T-shirts running around,” Garretson said. “Well, we announce it on the morning announcements, ‘This is white T-shirt and black pant day today.’”
He said the unorthodox method makes teachers and students aware of what is going on around them, but more importantly sends a strong message to gang members.
“It lets the kids involved in the gangs know that we’re very cognizant of what they’re doing on campus and we don't have a problem announcing it on the morning announcements,” Garretson said.
The principal noted the candidness between faculty and students has also given some students the courage to come forward with information that has stopped problems on the campus.
“Our kids will come up and tell us things that they see and what they hear so we’re able to help intervene,” Garretson said. “That’s something we’ve worked real hard on at this school —keeping that openness there-yet at the same time they know if they come up and tell us something that it’s kept as strict, confidential information.”
Garretson said his staff is committed to stopping the problem of gangs from spreading on the middle school campus, but real change will have to come from help at home and within the larger community.

Committed community effort
As the SGMS Parent Involvement Facilitator, it is Mary Meadows' job to "bridge the gap between the school and home." She said often times parents do not recognize the signs of gang activity and Tuesday night's presentation could teach them what to focus on with their children.
"There are a lot of parents who aren't aware of what's going on in their own home," she said. "They just need to listen. If anything it'll make them aware of things."
She added the community as a whole can also benefit from learning more about gangs.
"I think as a community this is a way to bring everyone together," she said. "You're not going to resolve this problem completely, but at least as a community we can take steps to prevent some of the stuff that's going on."
In addition, Garretson said genuine commitment to decreasing gang influence will have to be on a continual basis.
"The big problem is that once we catch on, they move on to something new," he said. "By February 8th, 50 percent of what was presented Tuesday will have changed in some form or fashion."

For those who are unable to attend the awareness meeting, information can be e-mailed or mailed to your home. Call Meadows at 877-3112 for more information.

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