The writing is on the wall – literally. And parents of Sts Peter and Paul Catholic School students got the word Thursday night on what all that graffiti is really about.
The presentation stemmed from the work of Sister Margaret Confoy, who called on LaVelle M. Campbell of the Department of Education, David C. Parkhurst of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency and Detective Mark Joseph of the V.I. Police Department to show parents at her school how to spot gang activity and drugs.
Confoy wrote a grant and her New Jersey-based order, the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth’s, came through with funds to help her teach parents ways to “move ahead to help their children.” Some of the grant money paid for the meeting for the parents of children at Sts Peter and Paul.
“We do need some kind of guidance,” said parent Andrew Ripley, who attended the meeting with his wife, Rosario.
Gang graffiti defaces surfaces that thousands of residents and tourist walk by everyday, oblivious to its ominous meaning. Gang members don’t want most people to know what the ciphers mean, but there are people who can translate it – and the messages often have deadly implications.
Up and down pointed pitchforks, five and six-pointed stars aren’t just decoration, these are symbols of gang-claimed territory, and Campbell is showing parents how to recognize it so it can be stopped.
Campbell, the school safety manager for the Department of Education, doesn’t just want to stop the defacing in schools, he has documented the graffiti all over the streets and walls of St. Thomas, St. John and St. Croix.
The Crips and the Bloods are the main gangs found in the Virgin Islands and have roots dating from the Black Panther movement in the 1960s in California, according to Campbell. There are also nationality-associated gangs from Jamaica, Cuba and Trinidad in the Virgin Islands and even more hybridized groups like the Savan Crips, the Garden Street Massive and the BHBs (Bounty Hunter Bloods).
Gangs associated with the Bloods use the color red to identify themselves, and often wear red accessories like bandanas and shoes. Bloods use the five pointed star, the number five and downward pointing pitchforks in their graffiti.
Crips are associated with the number six and use six-pointed stars and upward pointing pitchforks, Campbell told the parents.
Red bandanas hanging from the right hand rear pocket of pants are associated with the Bloods, and blue bandanas in the left rear pocket are associated with the Crips.
There are even gangs which have criminal specialties, Campbell said.
“The New Breed is a hit group for the gangs,” Campbell said. This gang uses gray bandanas tied around their necks.
Cs with an up arrow mean up with the Crips, while Bs with a down arrow, meaning down with the Bloods, the number 187, which stands for murder or homicide, all are symbols that Campbell has captured in photos of graffiti taken all over the territory’s public walls and furniture. As might be expected, he even found gang graffiti in the hospital waiting room.
Campbell confiscates gang-related paraphernalia almost every day from students in the territory’s public schools including cell phones, from which law enforcement capture information about other gang members.
Educating adults is an important part of Campbell’s outreach program.
“Youths know where to look for it and know what it means,” Campbell said. “Don’t be blind and think it cannot be your youth.”
Turning to the discussion of drugs, Parkhurst and Joseph showed parents two kits representing drug and drug-paraphernalia, so they would know how to identify it in their own homes.
The officers said behavior is a good indicator of drug use.
Joseph told parents to look for bloodshot eyes and at their children’s fingertips for discoloration, as the smoke and chemicals from a joint will leave residue behind.
“Look at their grades,” Parkhurst told the parents. “They are going to be down, and they get in trouble.
Secretiveness, not wanting parents to come into their rooms should also be a flag to parents. Stealing, or missing money or jewelry as well as expensive things like iPods or chains should make parents alert to the possibility that their child is involved in drugs.
Drug use and addiction are not the worst of the scenario, according to Joseph. Involvement with gangs and drugs often leads to physical and sexual abuse.
“Kids will be approached by a dealer who will give them drugs and get them hooked,” Parkhurst said. “Then they use up their allowance.”
After getting hooked the victim starts stealing and the dealers observe the behavior and then get them selling drugs and robbing people.
Parkhurst urged parents to talk to their children at a young age and not be afraid to search their children’s rooms, noting that users were not going to leave their drugs out in the open.
“The earlier it is, the more they are inclined to listen,” Parkhurst said. “Be as direct as you have to, especially if you have already seen some signs.”
The presenters gave out the Crime Stoppers phone number, emphasizing that it is managed stateside and is completely anonymous. The number is 1-800-222-TIPS.