Since September five Mount Tahoma High School students have lost their lives to gang violence on Tacoma streets. On Feb. 5 Mount Tahoma opened its doors to the surrounding South Tacoma community to discuss the recent surge in gang activity, and ways to curb it.
Mike Wilson is the program manager for Youth Leading Change (YLC), a high school club that works in tandem with Safe Streets to promote positive youth behavior and leadership. He discussed the state of gang activity and crime in Tacoma during the late 1980s and early 1990s.
“Gang activity is on the rise across the board. We just don’t want to see it get to that point again,” he said. “We saw it escalate before, we had the opportunity then.”
Wilson works with students at all of Tacoma’s high schools to encourage positive change by spreading messages of prevention and leadership to their peers.
At the school’s first Peace Out event Feb. 5, YLC students partnered with the school district, the police department and Safe Streets to help educate and collaborate with the community to start to put an end to the rise in gang activity, violence, crime and drug use in the area.
“Gang activities have been persistent, economic (struggles) have been persistent,” said Ivy Murphy, program supervisor for Safe Streets’ regional gang prevention partnership. “We’re zeroing in on the East Side and the South End. We’re trying to create a paradigm shift on youth.”
At the Peace Out event, youth, parents and community members were supplied with information on warning signs of gang activity, insight on why youth become affiliated with gangs, and some options for preventing and halting current gang activity.
“The one solution that there is, is that it’s going to take all of us in the community” to put a stop to gang activity, said Tacoma Police Department Captain Mark Langford.
About 60 people, more than half of them youth, were present at Mount Tahoma’s Peace Out. Seventy percent of those people who responded to a survey stated that drugs, gangs and property crime were the big issues in their neighborhoods.
“We really want to have kids take the initiative and say ‘we want to have safe schools,’” Wilson said. “The challenge every week is to work on prevention.”
Mount Tahoma’s Peace Out is the first in a series of events that will take place at schools across the district in the future. Lincoln High School is hosting a student-led community education Peace Out forum Feb. 12 in the school’s cafeteria from 5:30-8:30 p.m. There will be a panel discussion regarding community mobilization against gangs, gang prevention, substance abuse awareness and youth violence prevention. Food, beverages and childcare will be provided. Lincoln is located at 701 S. 37th St. Call (253) 272-6824 for more information.