By Ed Brock
Indira Boult, a security officer at Lake Regency Apartments, already knew a thing or two about gangs before attending a recent seminar on the subject.
For example, she knew that teardrop tattoos on a gang member's face represent each person that gang member had killed.
"And they're proud of them," Boult said. "They'll come in and be just as nice and professional to you n but they're your demons."
Boult was among a crowd of nearly 30 managers and employees of apartment complexes in and around the city of Riverdale who attended Tuesday's informational meeting put on by the Riverdale Police Department. The crowd listened intently as Riverdale Officer Ryan Bynum, the department's gang expert and student resource officer at Riverdale Middle School, told them about the habits of gangs operating in their area.
And they volunteered their own observations, having lived with the problem of gangs for so long.
More girls are joining gangs, said several members of the crowd.
"They're the ones renting the apartments," said Bianca Stewart about female gang members.
Then the boyfriends move in and run their illegal operations from the apartment, Stewart said.
Bynum pointed out that the girls usually hold the drugs for the male gang members because male police officers can't search them. Bynum had a lot of other information to impart in the hour-long meeting.
The meeting came in the wake of a recent crackdown by the Clayton County Police Department on gang activity in apartment complexes on Riverdale Road north of Riverdale city limits. Most of that activity was connected to a gang called the Hit Squad that may have been involved in a July 14 shootout at Kimberly Forest Apartments in which a 17-year-old boy was wounded.
Bynum talked about the factors that lead young people to join a gang, how to recognize gang members and how gang members recognize and communicate with each other.
Gangs go after young people who are alone and he don't fit in otherwise, ones who are neglected or abused by their parents.
"Gangs feed on that," Bynum said. "They take them to a low level of self esteem and then build them up."
New members are told to prove their loyalty by being "beaten in" to the gang, a process in which several members of the gang beat the newcomer for a certain amount of time, then pick them up and tell them they love them. After that the gang has a cult-like influence on its members.
"Once they're in, they're in. There's no coming out," Bynum said.
Each gang has its own colors and its own way of "representing," wearing clothes toward one side of their body to show their allegiance. Red clothing with representation to the left (caps pointed to the left, a left pants leg rolled up, a red bandana in the left pocket) is a sign of a member of People Nation, an umbrella organization that includes several gangs.
Blue clothing with representation to the right indicates allegiance to the People's enemy, Folk Nation. Each gang also has their own hand signs and even their own alphabet.
Even young children in elementary school can be influenced by gangs, Bynum said, and one way to find out if that's happening is to look in the back of their school notebooks to see if they are writing in strange letters.
Clayton County is a "hybrid" area, Bynum said, a combination of gangs that are highly influenced by recent arrivals from big cities.
"A lot of kids come down from New York because their parents want to get them out of that bad atmosphere," Bynum said.
Instead, the teens use their street knowledge to impress local youths and to form their own "sets."
Larger gangs will even go so far as to send intelligent members to law school and medical school so they can have free, untraceable medical care and legal representation. They send other members to the military to learn tactics and weapons training.
Asian and Hispanic gangs are also growing in number in the county, and the problem isn't going away any time soon.
"It's coming. It's right here in front of everybody's faces," Bynum said.