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Community Voices Confronting gangs in Lodi: Ralph Womack, Lodi Unified School District trustee

‘Gangs are actively recruiting our children as early as the fourth grade. Why? Gang leaders have a mission and strategy to recruit members.’

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Ralph Womack

Posted: Thursday, March 29, 2012 12:00 am | Updated: 5:58 am, Thu May 31, 2012.

Before retiring from the Stockton Police Department in 2003, I had 32 years in law enforcement. In all those years, my most disturbing experience has always been the violence. I am currently program manager for Operation Peacekeeper, a City of Stockton youth gang/violence prevention program. The focus is youth ages 10-18, who often exhibit behaviors and attitudes that indicate they may be heading down a path of violence and/or gangs.

An early indicator is when normally good grades in school suddenly drop. If people want to see a decrease in gangs and violence, they have to realize first that criminal activity and violence are the main reasons gangs exist in the first place. Any effective prevention effort must include all three areas of a youth's life: the home, the street and school. We must connect the dots on all three areas 24/7.

Gangs are criminal enterprises, period. There are NO redeeming values to gangs. Ask any former gang member who has turned his life around, and they will confirm my assertion.

Gangs are actively recruiting our children as early as the fourth grade. Why? Gang leaders have a mission and strategy to recruit members. Often youths believe lies about the glory of being in a gang. Parents will tend to ignore or deny early signs that a youth is going down the path toward gang activity.

I have seen well-meaning mothers rationalize away clear warning signs because they naively know their "baby" would never associate with gangs. I also heard parents say their child knows better or is too smart to do such a thing; this is a false sense of security and a dangerous one.

It is not unheard of for well-intentioned adults to simply believe their children would never get involved, and will therefore deny there is a problem until too late. Gangs pray on the most vulnerable (the younger) by feeding them lies about how the gang is their family and authority — whether it is law enforcement, teachers or parents — are the enemy. Many street crimes are committed by youngsters "putting in work" because they believe the myth that they can gain the "respect" of older members.

So what is a parent to do? Let me lead by first saying there is a huge difference between simple and easy. Many answers are simple yet not at all easy. First, please do not doubt that there is a very active war going on for the hearts and minds of our children, and we must be ever-vigilant and equip ourselves with as much knowledge as possible while still having the intestinal fortitude to say "no" to our children when appropriate and question their activities.

The vast majority of our youth are indeed "good" kids. That is not the issue. Good kids are going to be influenced, as that is part of growing up. However, will they be positively or negatively influenced? You are your child's first teacher, mentor and role model. You must model what you want to see. You must spend time with them. It may sound like a no-brainer, but be the parent.

I cannot count the number of times that parents call me and admit that their child has the iPod, the cellphone, the latest in shoes that are in fashion; all of which the parents pay for. Then they admit the youth is not doing well in school and refuses to stop hanging around with his "friends." In essence, the youth continues to be rewarded for poor behavior.

There are a few simple steps (remember, I didn't say "easy") every parent can do. When I say parent, I fully realize that some youth do not have responsible parents in their lives, or some parents simply do not know what to do. If that is the case, then the uncle, family friend or neighbor needs to step up. It is imperative that you know who your child's friends are and who their parents are.

I often hear parents say their child is not in a gang but simply has a few "thugs" he hangs with that the parents really don't trust. If your child has some friends you don't feel good about, then trust your gut. Find out more about them. You must make it your mission to know these "friends," and do not allow any friend who is not going to be a positive influence on your child. Trust, but verify.

Does it not amaze you when you read about a 14-year-old being stabbed by a 13-year-old at 11:30 at night? When the child is young, they need parameters in place without compromise. Where are they? Who are they with? What are they doing?

There is not enough room to go into every scenario that may help decrease the number of gangs and the violence that comes with that lifestyle, and certainly what I suggest is long-term. However, being a very proactive parent throughout your child's life, starting at a very young age, is an outstanding start.

Ralph Womack is a Lodi Unified School District trustee, a retired Stockton police captain, and director of the Operation Peacekeeper gang prevention program in Stockton.

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  • Marilyn Dougherty posted at 12:55 pm on Wed, Apr 4, 2012.

    Proactive MOM Posts: 1

    I totally agree with you Mr. Womack. But, and there is a but, no matter what the parent does the child has to be humble enough to stop. I was very very very proactive, even having your group try to help me,and having principals and teachers involved, and more,but to no avail. I was so proactive that I would copy cell phone numbers down so I would have something to give the police if need be. And at times I did help the police. Children today are VERY SECRETIVE and do not let their families know any information. You can't be it out of them! My child would go and meet up with his friends and do things when we were at the store or else where.I've cried so many days and nights. He's now 19 and only now getting a fast food job, but still hangs around children who are a bad influence. I raised him around ALL UPBUILDING people , all the time when he was young. It was in the schools that he found and then chose such association. If I had to do it over again I would have never sent my child to school. I would have ONLY home schooled. The schools are like prisons full of bad association. Yes, there are good kids there, but the majority have got some pretty bad home lifes.!!!

  • Darrell Baumbach posted at 2:23 pm on Thu, Mar 29, 2012.

    Darrell Baumbach Posts: 9403

    I think this letter is packed with helpful informative information. Mr Womack is refreshing.

    As far as the school budget, if administrative expenses include salaries and benefits of people employed in the school district, I understood that figure to be around 91%.... are there some official numbers out there?

    By the way... good to see your comment Bill!

  • Bill Stamos posted at 9:43 am on Thu, Mar 29, 2012.

    skilos Posts: 93

    I agree with Kim Parigoris and believe that the present administrative cost of 85% of the school budget is beyond excessive and should be trimmed to much lower levels. Am happy to have men like Ralph Womack in a leadership position and feel his plan should be implemented while the problem is still manageable.

  • Kim Parigoris posted at 6:22 am on Thu, Mar 29, 2012.

    Kim Parigoris Posts: 469

    The Stockton Operation Peacekeeper program sounds very good and it would be nice to start one in Lodi. I would rather see 132,000 go to a program like this, than hiring a chef for that amount of money for LUSD, which is an action that the School Board entertained the other night. If our school system (and our entire government system in this state) wasn't run by unions, we would have plenty of money for important and meaningful programs like this. 85% of school money is spent on administrative expenses and they want to raise my taxes with this irresponsible behavior?



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