NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – There are a lot of ways kids can get into trouble in school, showing up late or cheating on a test. But school resource officers are dealing with much more than that, they’re watching for signs of gang activity.
It’s something as small as a hand gesture, a bandana and matching shoelaces, or symbols doodled in a notebook, that tipoff school resource officer and former Metro police gang detective, Byron Boelter, to a potential gang member in the school.
“They’ll walk down the hallway and they’ll do what’s called ‘stacking,’ they’ll do things with their hands again that show what gang they’re trying to affiliate with,” said Boelter.
“Trying,” Boelter said because gangs don’t run the halls of schools in Nashville. In his experience, kids often try to represent gangs in order to feel part of something greater.
“I’ve seen people identify with gangs as young as ten,” Boelter said, “Sometimes it’s culture, where you were raised, the environment you were raised in. Thug life is glorified, they feel like they have to be a part of this for some kind of self-esteem booster, I’m a part of something bigger than me.”
Bishop Marcus Campbell was one of those kids.
“I wanted to be part of a family,” he said, “Some of the older guys that (were) a part of the gang, I kind of looked up to them because my father wasn’t in my life; and I was like, man I really respect this guy and look up to them, just wanted that family love.”
Carlton Lewis has been a magistrate in the Davidson County Juvenile Court for decades.
“One would think, possibly, that it’s in the more depressed, economic areas, public housing, but unfortunately, it stretches from Antioch to Bellevue, to all over the county, it’s there,” Lewis said.
One of the most recent incidents happened at Glencliff High School in Antioch one year ago. A student claimed he was kidnapped from outside the school by three MS13 gang members. He said they took him to an apartment and beat him up when he refused to join their gang.
The man police arrested, Franklin Pineda-Caceres, was an undocumented immigrant from Honduras. Homeland Security had previously deported him for unlawfully entering the U.S. They say he re-entered when the alleged kidnapping occurred.
“There were cases every now and again where they would recruit for a gang or they would court you for a gang…I haven’t seen that as of late,” Boelter said.
The problem in Middle Tennessee is pop-up gangs.
“Gangster disciples, Crips, Bloods, you name it, they all come together to form a gang, and that’s something unheard of in bigger cities,” said Campbell.
If they end up in the justice system, they go to GRIP court — a 9-month ‘Gang Resistance and Intervention’ Program.
“We have found a lot of the young people that are engaged in gang activity or high-risk behaviors, are suffering from undiagnosed mental health issues, there are drug and alcohol issues, prescription medication issues,” Lewis explained, “Quite often all they see is what takes place in their small neighborhoods and we try to show them that there are alternatives.”
“It’s becoming harder now to pull them away, because most kids to me today, seem like they have less hope than the ones we were dealing with ten years ago,” Campbell added.
Part of GRIP is with Campbell’s counseling program called GANG, “Gentlemen And Not Gangsters”.
“Letting them know they’re not in this by themselves, there’s somebody there that’s been there. We do care,” Campbell said.
In Nashville, it’s a true community effort, from Campbell to Boetler to every home.
“You should know who your children’s friends are, you should watch their social media…listen to some of the things they’re saying…certain little graffitis they may write on their walls at home,” Boelter said, “Where there’s smoke there’s fire, so if you start to see these things, it might be time to have a conversation with your child.”
News 2 digs deeper into what’s happening with all levels of crime in school and what’s being done about it. See our special reports all day this Thursday in every newscast. Click here for more.