Sunday, August 3, 2008

'Tween' Gangs: America's Next Epidemic

Groups of young people are vandalizing, intimidating, terrorizing and assaulting neighbors. Even worse, they're only 10 to 14 years old. It's a growing summer problem in some Minneapolis neighborhoods.

The 8th Street Block Club spent years creating and expanding their "Peaceful Patch Garden."

"The most important thing I think is it's really brought us together, these four blocks," said club leader Marge Magnuson.

A gang of mostly young teen girls tore the neighborhood apart.

"They would just operate in marauding groups I guess I would say, of between 10 and 15," said Bill Bryant, another club leader.

"They'd be walking down the sidewalk, and if you were coming their way, you could not, they would, you had to step aside," said Magnuson.

They used the same intimidation tactics on drivers in the street. The garden became anything but peaceful.

"(They) would vandalize and we'd try to put things back and then it would, (a) couple days later maybe the same thing would happen again," he added.

Then they started assaulting people, including Magnuson.

The block club enlisted help from police, parole officers, social service leaders and others to help combat the problem. Its behavior police have battled before.

"I think you'd find a lot of kids that aren't getting any supervision at home that have got a lot of problems of their own, and they join up with other kids," explained Don Greeley, a Community Crime Prevention Specialist.

The neighborhood refused to let the gangs take over, and it steered them in a more positive direction.

"We actually were able to have the kids interacting with the residents and the community in a respectful way," said V.J. Smith, a founder of Mad Dads.

Last year the 11th Street Block Club was so discouraged about the young teen gang violence and destruction in their neighborhood, they skipped it. This year it will proceed as planned to celebrate their accomplishments.


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