ELIZABETHTOWN — Gang awareness was the focus of an event at the Powell-Melvin Building on Monday, but those who spoke to visitors emphasized the role the public can play in making sure gang activity is kept to a minimum.
The event — which was sponsored by EastPointe in partnership with Bladen County Schools, the Bladen County Sheriff’s Office, Elizabethtown Police Department, Clarkton Police Department, Bladenboro Police Department, White Lake Police Department, N.C. Department of Public Safety, N.C. Cooperative Extension Service and Bladen Community College — featured a talk from Jamir Jumoke, a former gang member who shared his experiences.
Several law enforcement officers also spoke about gang activity in and around Bladen County, along with East Bladen Principal John McMillan.
The evening’s topic centered around “What is the value of a child,” but the focus quickly took on the role of parents and the public in helping to prevent any potential of increased gang activity.
Those in attendance were told point-blank by Elizabethtown Police Detective Kip Hester something many had been unwilling to admit, that gangs do exist in Bladen County.
That fact was built upon by McMillan, who told the crowd that gangs are in the schools, including East Bladen High.
Several speakers pointed to a laundry list of reasons for youngsters to fall in with gangs — including a sense of protection, peer pressure, sense of status, a feeling of family, thrill-seeking and the promise of financial opportunities.
But all of the speakers agreed that the key solutions to keeping gang activity from escalating in the county include parental involvement in their child’s life and the public’s keen eye toward perceived gang activity.
Sheriff Prentis Benston said parents and guardians need to show their children attention and love on a consistent basis. He said children will seek those things out somewhere and, if not at home, then they may find it with the wrong crowd.
McMillan said part of his job at East Bladen is to build relationships with his students — including the gang members — in an effort to keep the lines of communication open.
And Detective Richard Allen with the Sheriff’s Office said residents can assist law enforcement in their communities to keep gang activity away by notifying them with anything suspicious, even if it’s merely the gathering of individuals in a place and at a time that seems suspicious.
The Sheriff’s Office has a Gang Tip Line for the public to anonymously report suspected gang activity. A text message can be sent to 910-874-8124 or an email can be sent to email@example.com.