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Movies, music Adds to the Lure of Gangs

On her DVD player, "The Fast and The Furious" portrayed gangs and racing in a favorable light but one Springfield mother wasn't alarmed until she saw the tennis shoes hanging off the telephone wire. She's seen the same thing around Springfield, and according to the script, it signaled when a gang member died.

"Just seeing that really caught my eye," said the mother, who wanted to remain anonymous.

Fairfax County detective Richard McEachin knows about the tennis shoe myth and the death rumor that isn't supported by any known incidents. He does see the influence of the movies and certain music that teens listen to.

"That's [shoes] an urban legend, it's a big thing in California. I think it's just a childhood prank. For kids now it's just cool to be a thug. They can cite each line from that movie verbatim," he said.

Mceachin is part of the Fairfax County police gang unit, which consists of 10 officers and two supervisors. In addition, there is one gang coordinator at each district station.

Officer Matt Charron, coordinator at the Franconia District Station, has seen the influence of movies as well, in particular "Blood In, Blood Out" and "American Me."

"Fast and the Furious" was also on his list.

"These are movies they like to look at. 'Fast and Furious' probably had to do with the increase in drag racing in the area," he said.

The influence of movies, music or public figures goes back to the Al Capone days as well.

"None of this is new," Charron said.

Combating the gang trend is not easy though. McEachin stressed parental involvement and noted going overboard to protect teens' rights can sometimes be a bad thing.

"It does take parents involvement. Believe it or not, there are parents that haven't been in their kids room for a couple of years," he said. "Snoop in your kids' bedrooms," he recommended.

Charron recommends this tactic for parents as well.

"The big thing is to go through their rooms, go through their book bags, see what they're drawing. Some are amazed," he said.

<mh>Spray Paint Art?

<bt>Grafitti is another area of gang involvement. Although the various spray painted slogans seen on the roadside may seem indecipherable, McEachin noted that somebody reads it somewhere. Crossing the graffiti out is a sign of disrespect.

"Graffiti has been described as the newspaper of the street," he said.

At the Springfield Estates Elementary School, principal Susan Garrison recently saw the surrounding community marred by spray paint signs, possibly connected to gangs. She contacted the Virginia Department of Transportation as well as police. Charron remembered Garrison's call as well.

"There was some graffiti, children never like to see their neighborhood or school violated. One of the ways our schools banded together to combat the sense of lure by gangs is to bring a sense of belonging," Garrison said.

Garrison noted the importance of parental participation as well.

"If your child shows up with $200 shoes and $400 coats, you need to find out where they got the money," she said.

Some of the graffiti was attributed to "tagging," Charron said, notably an incident that occurred on a sign along the highway in past months. "Heavenly Design" is a group affiliated with that activity in the Springfield area, and their designs include "HD" as part of the graffiti.

A program called Partnership For Youth is being conducted in the schools to address the gang trend. Lee High School and some of the feeder elementary schools is one of the testing grounds for this program. Springfield Estates Elementary School is a feeder school to Lee.

<mh>Ethnicity

<bt>The gang trend is not limited to one ethnicity as well.

"Race and creed doesn't matter anymore, they're starting to accept anybody now," McEachin said.