TIFTON -- A recent shooting has brought to light a growing problem in Tift County, criminal gangs.
Within the last few weeks, a trailer in Tifton was shot five times in an incident of apparent gang violence. According to Sgt. Joey Woods of the Tift County Sheriff's Department, an expert on gangs, the incident was an attack directed at a Hispanic gang known as Sur 13. He said that the attack was most likely by either Nor 14 or Vato Loco, rival Hispanic gangs. No one was hurt by the attack.
"Right now, we have a lot of problems with Hispanics, Hispanic gangs," said Woods.
Woods is the former president of the Georgia Gang Investigators Association, an organization of more than 300 law enforcement officers from local, state and federal agencies. He has trained with gang units in the city most often associated with street gangs, Los Angeles.
Woods said that gangs shooting at each other is a problem for the county, but it has little in common with the heavily populated areas.
"They're a threat because a child's going to get hurt," Woods said. "Are they like Los Angeles? No."
"We don't have the turf battles that you see in L.A.," he said.
"There are no definite gang turfs around here."
Woods said Sur 13 takes its name from the Spanish name for south, for southern California, and the 13th letter of the alphabet, M, for either "Mexican," "Murder" or "Marijuana." Nor 14 or Norte 14, is a similar gang from northern California.
Along with the Hispanic gangs, Woods said there are several other active gangs in Tift County.
He said many gangs are aligned with the famous Crip gangs that frequent L.A. These include the Insane Gangsta Crips, the Dog Island Crips, Unionville, Phillipsburg and the Bottom Boys. There also members of the Folks or Folk Nation out of Chicago and a few members of the Crips' traditional rivals, the Bloods.
"We have Blood gangs, but we haven't seen a lot of them," said Woods.
He said that the gangs are not as big a threat as traditional street gangs. He said that although many of them wear gang colors, in urban areas certain gangs will not wear certain colors at all. Tift County gangs are not usually as restrictive.
"Our Crip gang members in Tifton would not last two hours in Los Angeles," Woods said.
There are also a couple of skateboard gangs in Tift County as well, namely the Jokers and the P**s Drunks. These gangs are most typically associated with graffiti.
Woods said that almost all gang members are teenagers and that he has found gang members in the third and fourth grade before. He said that by the time a gang member makes it to adulthood, they are usually in prison.
Woods said that the purpose of most gangs is to sell drugs and that the leaders recruit young kids to do the dirty work. He described it as a "modern-day slave trade." He said that when kids are too young to work in legitimate businesses, the gang leaders do not care about child labor laws and keep them working through threats, intimidation and a false sense of family.
"Most of the gangs here do some kind of initiation that involves violence," said Woods. He said that the gang members will convince them it is about love and tell them, "If you don't do what we say, we'll do this again to you."
"We're your family now," the gangs would say. "We're going to protect you."
"Part of the gang life is violence," said Woods. "They end up getting into these shoot-outs. They end up shooting somebody innocent that's not involved in anything.
"It's not just a law enforcement problem. It's the community's, too."
Woods said that the only way to prevent gangs is to inform youth on the dangers of the gang life and also to provide them with healthy alternatives. He said that he wants to put on an activities fair where children and their parents can learn about the many options to occupy a child's time such as recreation department sporting leagues, church groups and school clubs. He believes that information on options should be more readily available to parents.
To contact reporter Dusty Vassey, call 382-4321, ext. 208.
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