Community hears from GBI, locals
Gang activity might not be out in the open everyday in Northeast Georgia like it is in metro Atlanta, but agents with the Georgia Bureau of Investigation say it’s here and they want to put an end to it.
A gang awareness event was held last Thursday, Jan. 16, at the Lavonia Community Center, where local folks from surrounding counties gathered to listen to GBI agents and local law enforcement officials speak about known gangs in the area and how to spot them.
The event was organized in part by New Light Baptist Church Pastor David Johnson, who previously heard a similar presentation about gangs in the surrounding counties and wanted to raise awareness.
“Having a heart and a passion for our youth not to go in the wrong direction and have the wrong types of influences,” Johnson said about why he helped organize the event. “I thought this would be a good way to educate the community and make them more aware of what’s going on.”
Agents with the GBI focused the conversation on how to spot certain gangs by signs, colors, tattoos and other indicators. They said a lot of local gangs are sub-sets of national gangs, such as the Bloods or Gangster Discaiples, and are involved with criminal activity such as drug dealing and theft.
Known gangs in Hartwell, Lavonia and surrounding counties reportedly include “Sex, Money, Murder”, “Rolling 60’s” and the local group “Smash Gang,” agents said.
Audience members periodically questioned the validity of the presence of street gangs in the area, Lavonia specifically, but agents assured community members there are gangs committing crimes in the area.
One law enforcement official told audience members there have been “undercover purchases” from gang members in Lavonia.
An example case from Hartwell was used. A GBI agent with the Athens office, who asked not to be identified, spoke about an incident in Hartwell in which authorities were serving a search warrant at a house and suspects bolted out the back door before the police were in the house. Inside the home were multiple guns, including a semi-automatic rifle, and bags of marijuana with scales. The home was equipped with surveillance cameras and even had a police scanner sitting in the living room. The suspects were believed to be gang affiliated.
Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp has taken a hard stance against gangs. Last year, Kemp formed the GBI Gang Task Force, making good on his campaign promise to dismantle criminal street gangs. He doubled down during his State of the State Address, vowing to continue fighting street gangs.
The number of known gang members in Georgia is around 71,000, agents said, but it could be higher than that because it is under reported, officials said.
Solutions were tossed around in the Lavonia Community Center, such as having more law enforcement come speak at schools about potential consequences and hosting more community and church events for youth.
Johnson was hopeful this event wouldn’t be the last one.
“I would like to see this be a springboard to start some initiatives that would bring our youth and adults together,” Johnson said.