Navajo gang expert offers solutionsWhen Jared Lewis, a former officer with the Modesto Police Department in California and currently an expert on gang activity, went to the Navajo Reservation a few years ago for research purposes he emerged stunned.
When Jared Lewis, a former officer with the Modesto Police Department in California and currently an expert on gang activity, went to the Navajo Reservation a few years ago for research purposes he emerged stunned.
“I guess I went into it kind of blind,” Lewis said.
A week in Chinle was all it took to convince him that youth gang activity was a serious problem in Indian Country.
“ I was shocked at the level of weapons,” Lewis said. “I wasn’t expecting to see something like that on the Navajo Nation reservation. That combined with the drugs.”
Lewis describes Navajo gang culture as a cross between “Los Angeles and Chicago-style gangs.” He believes that poor economics on the reservation contribute to gang culture. According to the tribe, the unemployment rate on the reservation averages 38% to 50% depending on the season. Over half of the Navajo people live in poverty. Per capita income averages $4,106. The Navajo Nation Police estimate that there are at least 75 gang “sets” or groups within the tribe, with much of the activity centered in population centers such as Shiprock, Crownpoint, Window Rock, Fort Defiance, Chinle, Kayenta, and Tuba City. The Albuquerque Police Department has also reported that some tribal members belong to Hispanic gangs.
Indian gangs are again in the news in the wake of what appears to be a war between two rival Native gangs in Minnesota. While Lewis said he did not know enough about that case, he has a sense of certain elements that tie Indian gangs together.
“ They vary from city to city, but it is common for Native American gangs to use branding where a new member is held down and branded, sometimes with a hot knife,” Lewis said. “Another common thing is to prove respect by maybe jumping another member of another gang or some other type of crime.”
Lewis says solving the gang problem involves a higher level of parental scrutiny.
“Gangs are not a police problem-they are a societal problem,” he said. “There seems to be an overwhelming feeling of denial. A lot of parents don’t look within their own walls to see if their child is contributing to the problem. It can be through dress or association or some other aspect.”
Sam Lewin, NativeTimes.com
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