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WALB Investigates:

Fighting Gang Influence

May 10, 2007

Albany --  Prosecutors and Police say that gang activity is Albany is epidemic. Young people say they see gangs recruiting new members everyday, but can it be stopped?

There are people in Albany trying to stop children from being lured into gangs, before they begin committing crimes. 

Fifteen-year-old Henry Shuler spends free time at the Albany Boys and Girls Clubs.  Otherwise, "I'd probably be out on the streets somewhere, in a gang, probably locked up or something," Shuler said.

Something 15 year old Shaquita Jones knows about too, the dangers of Albany streets.

"I see people getting shot at, people getting killed.  Bandanas, red, black, blue," Jones said.

Bandanas like the ones seized during raids at the homes of nine gang members, some of them leaders, on the prowl for new members.

Boys and Girls Clubs of Albany Director of Operations Bob Hutchinson said "kids got a lot of problems, they are fighting for survival."

Survival that gangs glamorize with mysterious symbols and graffiti-- lures to the most vulnerable: teenage boys without male role models.

Counselor Antonio Leroy said "We got a police presence around, but we need some real men giving some real time."

"Diagonal, move in diagonals, and the bishop can not jump his own man," is heard as a chess match is played out.

Time spent with the kids, a simple game of chess, may be the best antidote to gangs.

Antonio Leroy believes in "Project Turnaround." "A lot of those kids they don't have that kind of leadership and guidance at home, so you know they get it in the gangs." 

So he tries to give it to them instead, working with them after school, providing the guidance they may not have because of broken homes.

"Those gangs are doing things with those kids that they may be missing in a family setting," Hutchinson said.

So these community leaders welcome kids every afternoon at the Boys and Girls Clubs. 

"We have a certain expectation for you, we're giving you responsibilities," Leroy said. It gets them off the streets.

"Parents who think their kids are going to join the gang, there is always a spot at the Boys and Girls Club," said Shaquita Jones.

Here, they spend time studying, playing and interacting with positive role models.

And time here is time off the streets. "The problem is not going to go away, we are just going to have to deal with it,"  Hutchinson said.

With school out in another week, the Boys and Girls Clubs will be busy running summer programs. Programs they hope will lure kids off dangerous streets and out of the reach of violent gangs.

Twelve-hundred kids are expected for the summer Boys' and Girls' Club programs.

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