Angered about the spread of gang violence throughout their communities, Brooklyn mothers and community activists from more than a dozen police precincts visited the Brooklyn District Attorney’s Office to learn how to identify gang members and the local businesses that cater to their interests.
Over 60 mothers attended the District Attorney’s Gang Bureau information session last Saturday, where they formed a borough-wide task force called “Mothers Against Gangs.” Supervising Detective Investigator Philip O’Rourke and Chief of the Brooklyn Gang Bureau Deanna Rodriguez led an extensive presentation about the identifying signs of gang behavior, translating graffiti in their neighborhood, and the consequences of gang membership.
“Graffiti is the news of the streets,” Detective O’Rourke said. “Whenever you see names crossed out and arrows pointing up or down, that’s what can lead to shootings.”
One of the first jobs of the new task force is to identify stores in their local communities that sell merchandise marketed to gangs and their lifestyle.
“The gangs are very serious about this attire and it is facilitating recruitment,” said Lydia Mendoza, a member of the Mothers Against Gangs task force. “A lot of kids are drawn to the styles of the clothing and they get approached by the gangs. They’re in danger of getting beat up or stabbed. That’s how serious this situation is.
While the District Attorney has focused on Major League Baseball, New Era and the Cooperstown Collection for marketing baseball attire in colors and paisley patterns dissimilar from official team uniforms, parents have been sweeping through retail corridors throughout Brooklyn looking for these styles.
On Knickerbocker Avenue in Bushwick, parents found at least seven stores that sold hats, t-shirts and shoes in colors and patterns the District Attorney’s Gang Bureau has identified as signs affiliated with local gangs. As of this past weekend, Caps USA, Hyperactive, and the Perfume Hut all on Knickerbocker Avenue continued to sell baseball hats and shirts in distinct gang patterns. Some of the hats cost as much as $30 to $40, not including extra charges for the embroidery of five or six point stars and other symbols.
“Parents need to know that if these companies are going to make money off of the gang lifestyle, they need to decide whether they will spend their hard-earned money on this clothing,” Rodriguez said.
District Attorney officials stressed the need for mothers to monitor what their children and their children’s friends are wearing, even if they are not in a gang. While the off-color and paisley patterns of the New York Yankees and other teams may be fashionable to teenagers, detectives warned parents that wearing this clothing a particular way in a certain neighborhood could endanger their child’s safety.
“What if their child walked into a neighborhood wearing red and black or a bandana type hat into Crips territory?” Rodriguez said. “I’ve had case after case where a child was assaulted or murdered for the clothing that they were wearing.”
Some parents resolved to picket in front of these stores and tell other parents in their communities not to give them their business. Others asked whether they can file a lawsuit against a store if their child gets hurt as a result of wearing their clothing. Rodriguez, though not a civil litigator, said that she would connect parents with the proper legal counsel if such a situation occurred.
“A merchant who sells this doesn’t deserve their patronage,” Rodriguez said. “He clearly doesn’t care about their kids.”
For Rodriguez and other members of the District Attorney’s Gang Bureau, educating parents and teachers about the signs of gang activity and the consequences of wearing gang-affiliated clothing is a moral and ethical obligation. They have offered to lead seminars at community meetings throughout Brooklyn and hope that “Mothers Against Gangs” will help draw attention to local merchants who profit off gang activity in their communities.
“We want to make our voices heard as mothers,” said Mendoza. “We’re the ones who have to be educated about the dangers that are there for our kids. This clothing is enticing a lifestyle that mothers don’t know about.”
Mothers Against Gangs will be meeting in the District Attorney’s Office on 350 Jay Street on April 30. To join the task force, call 718-250-2500.