The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Opinion

April 6, 2010

Gangs?

Southern W.Va. residents deserve full disclosure, no gray area

BECKLEY — Is there organized gang activity in the Beckley area and nearby communities?

We’re not talking about isolated groups of neighborhood thugs. We’re talking about notorious, violent street gangs like the Bloods and Crips.

Is there hard evidence one way or the other?

The public deserves to know.

Back in the winter, Jefferson County lawmaker Tiffany Lawrence proposed legislation — which last week became law — making it a crime to recruit members for a gang. In doing so, she said gang activity had grown in her Eastern Panhandle region, which is close to the Washington/Baltimore area, and was evident in Beckley, Charleston and Huntington.

In response, Beckley Police Chief Tim Deems and Raleigh County Sheriff Steve Tanner said they did not believe the local area had a major gang problem. “Locally, we don’t have any closely knit organizations,” Deems said, adding that city police mainly deal with teens in loosely organized groups who may consider themselves gang members.

Then on March 18, Oak Hill police Cpl. Chris Young was shot during what was thought to be a routine traffic stop. A bulletproof vest saved his life.

Last week, Fayette County authorities dropped something of a bombshell when they said they believed Young was shot by someone affiliated with either the Bloods or Crips. Fayette Sheriff Steve Kessler said information had been developed that the Bloods and Crips are establishing a presence in the Oak Hill/Beckley area.

The Bloods and Crips are far different from neighborhood teens who may consider themselves gang members, and this stands to be a far more serious matter.

It’s time for law enforcement in the Raleigh and Fayette county areas to get together, share whatever evidence they may have and get to the bottom of this matter. If it means bringing in federal agents and/or other experts on gang activity, so be it.

Either the area has a serious gang problem or it doesn’t. There shouldn’t be a gray area.

If there is not a serious problem, then say so. Why cause prolonged alarm in these communities?

If there is a serious problem, then it needs to be dealt with swiftly and by whatever means are necessary.

The Raleigh/Fayette area, the entire region, for that matter, has been the beneficiary of positive developments over the past year. The Boys Scouts of America is establishing a national center in Fayette County, and Jim Justice has breathed new life into The Greenbrier and, most recently, The Resort at Glade Springs.

“West Virginia is a destination now,” Gov. Joe Manchin said following last week’s announcement that Justice had purchased Glade Springs.

It simply cannot become a destination for organized gangs.

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