Following the shooting death of a Wakefield High School student in April by
an alleged gang member, parents and students met recently to learn from
police officials how to prevent youths from joining gangs.
The meeting was moved from its originally scheduled date in the fall to
early summer, because of the shooting, said Cathy O¹Malley, Wakefield Parent
Teacher Association president.
On April, 27, Julio Bonilla, 18, was fatally shot outside the Arlington Mill
Community Center, off of Columbia Pike. A 17-year-old Wakefield student was
also shot, but survived. Police arrested four Northern Virginia residents in
connection with the shooting.
While it was the first deadly gang violence in the county since 2003, there
was not a strong reaction from the community after the shooting, O'Malley
"They don¹t perceive it [gangs] as being a problem in the community," she
added. "A lot of people want to think it happens somewhere else."
Daphne Miller, a parent of a Wakefield student, was one of about 25 people
who attended the meeting. She expressed concern for her teenagers in the
community, and came because she thought it was "better to get information
from a knowledgeable source rather than operate from speculation or rumor."
County Board member Walter Tejada agreed with O¹Malley that the community
needs to be more aware of the gang issue.
"We can't stick our heads in the sand and pretend it isn't a problem," he
said during a June board meeting. "We need to provide information to parents
so they are aware. If parents can be given more information and be alerted
about signs [of gang activity] then we all win."
Summer is the primary time for gang recruitment due to students being
unsupervised in parks and other venues, said Det. Rick Rodriguez, a member
of the county's gang task force.
He estimate that there are between 300 and 400 gang members in Arlington.
There are four levels of gang association, Rodriguez said: a child who is
"at risk" is interested and wants to learn more about the gang; an
"associate" is friends with those who are gang members, but is not a member
yet; a "regular" is part of a gang; and those considered "hard core" live
and breathe the gang lifestyle. Only 10 percent are hard core.
For the 90 percent who are not hard-core members, Rodriguez said both the
community and police need to encourage them "to walk away."
"Lay out the boundaries to your kids," Rodriguez said. "Tell them that you
will not put up with gang behavior because it is dangerous and I love you,
and I don¹t want you to be hurt. There must be consequences that mean
something, don¹t keep making idle threats."
Informing parents and community members is one way the gang task force is
combating gang-related criminal activity, because to a gang member, fear
equals respect. "That¹s how gangs control neighborhoods, by causing fear."
The detective urged parents to be there when their kids are home this summer
and after school during the year, even if it means rearranging their work
schedule, because one of the primary reasons a child joins a gang is due to
feeling abandoned at home.
In order to ease their feelings of abandonment, children will seek this
sense of belonging from gangs when they do not get it from their families.
Rodriguez discussed some possible characteristics that could signify a
child¹s participation in a gang or their vulnerability to recruitment that
parents should be aware of such as competitiveness, mistrustfulness,
defiance, exhibits of risky behavior without concern for the consequences,
no sense of the future, and a mentality of "what¹s mine is mine and what¹s
yours is mine."
Another method police are using is to take photographs of any gang-related
graffiti that is reported. Then, when a gang member is charged with one case
of graffiti, they can go back through the photographs and charge him with
every case where his individual "tag" or signature mark, has been found.
-Additional Reporting By Seth Rosen
ro>How To Report Gang-Related Activity
<lst>Arlington County Police Department Gang Hotline: 703-228-GANG (4264).
This hotline is available in English and Spanish, and you may be anonymous
if you wish.
Det. Richard Rodriguez ‹ Gang Unit 703-228-4326.
Students can talk to their teachers, the school resource office, and the
school guidance counselor.
To report graffiti, contact the non-emergency number at 703-558-2222.
This information, as well as additional tips for recognizing and combating
gang activity can be found at the Arlington County Police Department Web