Akron gangs ‘doing a lot of damage’
By Stephanie Kist
HIGHLAND SQUARE — Akron Police Department officer Don Schismenos told the more than 30 people gathered for a neighborhood meeting June 19 that about 45 gangs and 1,700 gang members have been confirmed inside the city of Akron.
He said that is a relatively small number, compared with the entire population of the city.
He also said that small number of violent young people is making a big impact.
“They’re doing a lot of damage out there, because they’re committing a lot of crime,” he said.
Schismenos, an officer with Akron’s
gang unit, gave a presentation
at a meeting of the West Hill Neighborhood Organization
(WHNO) on some of the identifiers and characteristics
of gangs and gang members. Akron City Council President
Marco Sommerville (D-Ward 3), whose ward encompasses
some of West Hill, also participated in the meeting.
Schismenos said more than half
of the about 30 homicides in Akron last year are related
to gang activity.
“Unfortunately, we have
seen an increase in gang-related violence,” he
Gang members are becoming more
violent and recruiting children as young as 9, he said.
Their motivation? Money.
With roots in the mob days of
the early 20th century, current gangs tend to identify
with one of four alliances — the Bloods or Crips,
of Los Angeles, or the People Nation or Folk Nation,
of Chicago, Schismenos said. Gang activity has spread
throughout the country
as gang members have migrated looking for a way to make
an easy profit in drug trafficking.
And gangs are adding members
of all races and backgrounds, drawing from a population
of juveniles who receive little attention and support
at home, who are looking for a crowd in which to fit
and who might be looking to make a quick buck.
“They join gangs because
it’s cool,” said Schismenos. “They
join gangs because it’s something [where] they
can make easy money.”
Gangs share a common name and
identifiers, Schismenos said, but what differentiates
them is their criminal intent and behavior — such
as home invasion robberies and drive-by shootings, crimes
with one-on-one contact.
The West Hill and Highland Square
area has its share of graffiti and tagging, Schismenos
noted, adding that when
gang-related graffiti or tagging begins to appear, it
means gangs have already gained a foothold in the neighborhood.
Schismenos explained a slide
showing a couple examples of tags — in one case,
the tag contained the word “block” spelled
“blocc” with the “b” crossed
out. Schismenos explained that is a tag done by a Crip;
the double-c eliminates “ck,” which stands
for “Crip killer,” and the crossed-out “b”
disrespects the Crips’ rivals, the Bloods.
Also, a tag of “7714,”
when flipped upside down, appears as “hill,”
indicating the territory of the Hilltop gang. Numerical
symbols often are used to indicate a gang.
He said police receive very few
calls about gang graffiti or tagging when it is taking
place, and he encouraged residents to call the police
department’s nonemergency number, (330) 375-2181,
to report any suspicious activity.
Gang members also communicate
with hand signals and code talk and dress in certain
manners, and many have tattoos, Schismenos said.
In response to a question from
an audience member, Schismenos said the wearing of oversized
white T-shirts, seen a lot in West Akron, originally
was a gang identifier but now has become mostly a fad.
However, the wearing of red and
black, which signifies an association with the Bloods,
is spreading throughout the city, and officers are seeing
more and more of it, he said.
Schismenos said gang members
have four alternatives — jail, death, injury or
leaving the gang.
And leaving a gang involves a
three-step process: admitting involvement with a gang,
removing the association with the gang and relocating
to another area, Schismenos said.
While some attendees said they
were speaking to the wrong crowd, Schismenos and Sommerville
said intervention begins in the home. Parents must be
good role models and be involved in their children’s
lives, Schismenos said.
Sommerville added that West Hill
has a lot to offer for families, including the Balch
Street Community Center, which has a pool.
Attendees also encouraged churches
to be a strong presence in the neighborhood, reaching
out to neighborhood children in addition to children
who attend the church.
Despite a gang presence, Sommerville
said a lot of good is happening in West Hill, and he
lauded “this great organization, this great neighborhood.”