‘Just keep praying’: Gang violence still threatening Albany communities

A former gang member in the Albany area is speaking out to make sure kids know the dangers of being in a gang.
Published: May. 15, 2023 at 7:03 PM EDT
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ALBANY, Ga. (WALB) - WALB has been reporting on gang activity in Albany for over two decades -- with many incidents going unreported.

The most recent gang-related activity took the life of Antwan Penn, a man who had just married the love of his life. It also resulted in six young men being put behind bars.

Many incidents like that have left residents to fear for their lives.

“All of a sudden, we start hearing gunshots. To be honest, we haven’t been sleeping good at night, not knowing what’s going to happen the next thing,” a woman who experienced a drive-by shooting three months ago said. “Just keep praying and ask God to protect us.”

A woman who lives in a south Albany neighborhood says her home was sprayed with bullets from a...
A woman who lives in a south Albany neighborhood says her home was sprayed with bullets from a drive-by shooting associated with gang violence.(WALB)

The neighborhood, located in south Albany, has seen its fair share of gang-related activity.

It’s something that the Albany Police Department’s Gang Task Unit handles firsthand.

“To this point in 2023, we’ve filed 64 gang-related charges through the courts just through January up until April,” said Sgt. Gregory Gadt, Albany Gang Task Force.

He says right now there are over 30 different gangs that are active throughout Dougherty County.

Gadt said his caseload of gang-related activity fluctuates between five to 10 cases in any given week. Since 2021, there have been five fatalities related to gang activity, according to APD’s crime analyst.

APD says gangs will never go away, but with the community's help, gang violence can be combatted.
APD says gangs will never go away, but with the community's help, gang violence can be combatted.(WALB)

“The state of Georgia is in a crisis when it comes to street gangs,” Gadt said.

He says a combination of youth not having anything to do in the community and mental health issues all contribute to the ongoing crisis.

So what can be done?

That’s something former Albany gang member, Travis Luke, is trying to figure out. After serving 10 years in prison for his involvement in local gangs, he turned his life around so he could help other troubled youth who are in gangs.

“I decided to step away and do it on a positive level,” Luke said.

He said most of the time, the increase in gangs starts in the justice system.

“You cannot lock up the problem. So you have to go to the problem and kind of say reason with the problem in order to straighten out the gang activity before it gets too far out of hand,” Luke said.

The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office says it’s trying to combat gangs with its GREAT program, which stands for Gang Resistance Education and Training. The program started in 2022 and teaches life skills to middle schoolers as a way to help them make good decisions.

“A lot of our kids have a struggle with making the right decisions. We just need the support of the community to help law enforcement and give our kids, once again, a safe environment to be a kid and enjoy themselves,” said Cpt. Ted Thomas, director of the Albany-Dougherty Youth Unit.

Thomas said the GREAT program is offering a free summer camp from May 30 to June 30 where curriculum and gang prevention tips will be taught. Anyone interested in enrolling their kids in the camp should go up to the sheriff’s office for an application.