By Ed Brock
Gang activity in Clayton County seems to be everywhere, but Clayton County Police Lt. Mark Thompson doesn't want people to despair.
"Initially it seems we're really up against an insurmountable foe, but nothing can be further from the truth because knowledge is power," said Thompson, the county police department's gang specialist, when addressing the Southlake Kiwanis Club on Tuesday.
Spreading knowledge about the kind of gang activity that is occurring in the county to groups like the Kiwanis Club was the reason why Thompson was at the club's meeting at Pilgreen's restaurant in Morrow. Club president Lou Hisel said Thompson's presentation was the first of three programs the club has scheduled to address the subject of youth violence.
"This is a program we probably would prefer not to have to have," Hisel said.
Recent incidents of gang violence in the county that have filled the headlines make it important for the club members to know as much as they can about the problem, Hisel said.
When Thompson started working with the Clayton County Police Department in 1983, the predominant gangs in Clayton County were the Klu Klux Klan, the Aryan Brotherhood and other white supremacist groups.
"Just like you see Shriners soliciting donations, the KKK was on every street corner soliciting funds in 1983," Thompson said.
Today he has identified 41 gangs in Clayton County and said there are three primary groups. There are Hispanic gangs like La Gran Familia and the Latin Kings. There are also Asian gangs like Asian Bloods and the Crazy Brother Clan. These gangs sometimes have affiliations with larger, established national gangs like the Crips and the Bloods that originated in Los Angeles.
Then there are the "hybrid gangs" like Southside Mafia, Hit Squad, the Bomb Squad, the Murder Squad and the Dream Team.
"Our hybrid gangs are training to become members of these (national) groups," Thompson said.
They are in the county's schools, Thompson said, and they are outside of the school. Gang members who are students carry cell phones so when other gang members call them they can open certain locked doors to let the intruders in. In some cases school administrators have unknowingly allowed gang members to pose together wearing their "colors" in the school's yearbook.
Color of clothing and apparel is one way gang members identify each other. They also "throw signs" with their hands to indicate their loyalties, and they openly wear tattoos such as the "comedy and tragedy" masks that usually represent drama. In the gang world they mean "laugh now and cry later because I'm going to kill you," Thompson said.
Thompson told the club members that the best thing they can do is to keep an eye out for possible gang activity and call police when they see it. And for the club members who were parents of teens, he urged them to get involved with their children and know what they are doing.
"The biggest thing a parent needs to know is how to say no," Thompson said.
Club member Arnold Curtis asked for information to pass on to his fellow employees of Georgia Power so they can look for gang graffiti while out in the field.
Waffle House District Manager Blake Tanner, also a club member, wanted stickers of the tip line for the newly formed Clayton County Gang Task Force, of which Thompson is an assistant commander, so he could post them in his restaurants. That number is (678) 610-4747.
Kiwanian Carol Stewart, director of services for the Clayton County Public Library System, said she's already had an opportunity to help directly in the fight. A few weeks ago the police informed her that gang members were using computers at the library as well as at their schools to access a Web site on which they were bragging about their criminal activity.
"We blocked that Web site so they couldn't access it," Stewart said.
At the end of his presentation Thompson once again emphasized that the case is not hopeless. The members of the gang task force are trained to beat the gangs.
"Not to deal with them, to beat them," Thompson said.