In early November, a 17-year-old boy was killed in broad daylight in Annapolis. Police said the young man was with a group of people he knew and one of them shot him. They fled to a blue car and left the area in an unknown direction. This tragic murder happened close to a public housing community, but not on the property itself. The person who was killed did not live in the public housing community, but he was known to associate with people from there.
The young man’s death has galvanized the Eastport community to demand an end to gun violence in public housing. For decades homeowners have feared that killings, usually contained to the vicinity of the public housing, would spill into the surrounding streets of Ward 8. Residents made an immediate call for more police, and the new acting Annapolis Police Chief used the opportunity to present his department’s strategy to fight gun violence.
One thing that the Annapolis Police did not bring to the table, however, was a deep knowledge of gangs operating in our communities.
As a local activist, I have been following gang violence in this area since 2006. What I have learned is that any gang that has been reported to operate in the Maryland penal system also has ties to neighborhoods in Annapolis and other areas of Anne Arundel County.
In the prison system, different gangs work together and respect one another’s territories and procedures. Once they are outside, they often adhere to uneasy business alliances in drug trafficking, prostitution, and other crimes. Periods of calm are commonly punctuated by extreme violence between gangs.
When poor county residents are sent to prison, they are almost always indoctrinated in one prison gang or another. Convicts offer protection to the newly incarcerated and force them into gangs. The same is true on the outside. When our societal system has failed at-risk youth, and parents are not able to provide protection for their children, street enforcers become their guides. This is the reality of what is happening today in Annapolis and the county.
Local government officials in Anne Arundel County are scrambling to respond to the recent “gangland”-style murder of three young Latinos in Annapolis. County police have not released many details about how the bodies were found, because of the gruesome nature of these crimes. Six young adults have been arrested for one of the murders.
While the only gang getting any publicity these days is the El Salvadorian MS-13, Hells Angels, Black Guerrilla Family, Dead Man Incorporated, and various other mafia groups all have a presence in our county.
On Wednesday, the Capital reported that Anne Arundel County State’s Attorney Wes Adams, who dismantled gang task forces after coming into office, in now ready to play catchup. On Monday Adams said, “We’re really involved now in proactively looking for information.”
In early December, Governor Hogan announced a multimillion-dollar “Tough on Crime” initiative, of which the funding for Adams’s new program in Anne Arundel County is included. The governor said the money would go toward “a new, collaborative data-sharing network to help prosecutors and law enforcement bring down criminal networks across the state.”
While the program centers on information-gathering and the proverbial “crackdown” on criminals and gangs, I also hope that our government leaders and agencies look into the root causes of gang violence rather than attacking the problem only from a law-enforcement angle.
Historically, law enforcement and politicians are the last to admit there are gang problems in their communities. This ignorance and avoidance has allowed gangs to fester and thrive. Over the past three years of County Executive Steve Schuh’s administration, four years of Mayor Mike Pantelides’s administration, and the tenure of State’s Attorney Wes Adams, gang violence has exploded.
We must do better.
Richard W. Right is a father, writer, and community activist from Anne Arundel County.
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