Apr 052011
Authors: Phoenix MourningStar

She was recruited into a gang by age 10. Within two years, childhood friends had become rivals, having joined opposing gangs. The ‘typical’ story of an unstable home life and an absent father round out this story –– a story that only appears to begin when she is convicted as an adult of second-degree attempted murder at the age of 17. What is not typical about this story is that it isn’t ripped from the files of Los Angeles, Detroit, New York, New Orleans or even Denver. This is the story of a girl right here in Fort Collins.

“…do you wanna ask any questions?” someone asked me, after listening to her story.

I felt jerked out of a bad dream.

“No … not right now –– I’ve never heard a story like that before.” What could I ask at 9 p.m. on a Monday night? The story had worn me out. Just hearing the struggle of an 11-year-old –– now going on 30 –– made me tired, I felt blown away.

The remarkable hope of her story is twofold.

First, her story has a positive ending that is still being woven, and I hope to write more about it. The second is that her life growing up is one that is being shared by a growing number of youth in Larimer County and we hear little about it.

“Gangs are recruiting 24 hours a day, man –– it takes more than just a couple well meaning after-school programs to help kids,” said Anthony DiBenedetto, director of the gang prevention non-profit His T.A.S.K. Force. As a former Director at YMCAs, this observation hits me in the gut with its blinding clarity.

How do we expect a couple hours of “programs” to make a difference when kids are being pressured on an hourly basis –– at home, at school, after school and online … ? It seems like every time statistics are calculated, gangs are recruiting kids younger and younger. Society always seems to be thee or four steps behind.
Recently, I’ve begun to wonder if Fort Collins isn’t falling further and further behind.

We are a quiet yet prestigious city. Our advertisements often highlight that we’re nestled in the mountains of northern Colorado, while rarely addressing that we’re also nestled between the mountain region’s gang hubs of Greeley, Longmont/Loveland and Aurora/Denver. If these areas are having measurable and addressable gang issues, why do we think we are immune?

A search of gang related articles in Colorado on the Bureau of Justice Assistance’s National Gang Center website only reveals 170 articles –– most of which come from Greeley and Denver. Only five articles cover Fort Collins from 2010 through 2011. But these are only the ones that are reported by the media.

A conspiracy theorist might charge that with the ‘Choice City’ branding on the line, it is ‘best for everyone’ to keep the words ‘gang activity’ out of the headlines and local newsletters.

However, on a more complex level, I’d like to challenge both the Collegian and Larimer County: How do we address the issue of gangs without glorifying them? How can we prevent the smudging of the city image, without leaving the children to the wolves? Is more money toward policing and incarceration an efficient solution, or is it time to get out ahead of the problem through effective prevention programs and funding before the problem sneaks up on us until we are more than just a frontier for the gangs of Greeley?

Phoenix Mourning-Star is a graduate student. His column appears Wednesdays in the Collegian. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 3:55 pm

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