We see it every day in movies, music and video games: society`s glorification of the gangster life.
Gang detectives here in Hampton Roads say that influence is spreading to kids, even as early as elementary school.
It doesn’t matter if your rich or poor, or live in the city or in the suburbs…because the so-called ‘bad neighborhoods’ you try to stay away from are now accessible to your kids on social media.
“Gang members are going to be on it just like everyone else, because its become the thing that’s popular,” said Detective Ken Gavin, an FBI Gang Task Force member with the Portsmouth Police Department.
The Hampton Roads FBI Task Force made major busts over the past few years, taking down big gangs like the Bounty Hunter Bloods in Norfolk and the Dump Squad in Newport News.
Still new ones are popping up – with younger and younger members.
“Kids want to take their places and emulate their idols,” said Detective Erik Kempf, another FBI Gang Task Force member with the Newport News Police Department.
Like everyone else their age, they post on Facebook, tweet on Twitter, and upload videos to YouTube.
Instead of the latest gossip at school, though, they talk about shooting up rival gangs and how much money they make from drugs.
“If I commit a robbery, and no one knows about it, I don’t get the status for it, but if I can put it on a social media site, and say ‘Hey, I did this in the name of my gang,’ then I get that recognition,” said Detective B.K. Hall, another FBI Gang Task Force member with the Portsmouth Police Department.
Sometimes, these young kids don’t just join up with an existing gang – they start one of their own.
Guess where they go to learn how to be a gangster.
“It’s much easier for them to get on the Internet or use their smart phone and talk to a Blood gang member from New York that they never would have met if not for MySpace or Facebook,” said Det. Gavin.
“They are communicating, ‘oh, no, you do it like this, this way.’ This is a way we are seeing these guys come together,” said Det. Hall.
It’s a continuous cycle on social media: Young kids learn about gangs from those that came before them, then post online about their exploits, influencing new, younger, more impressionable friends or followers.
With more and more absent parents busy at work or not caring about what their kids do online that cycle is breeding younger, and more vicious killers.
“These 15-16 year olds will kill you without thinking twice about it. They have absolutely no remorse, and absolutely no conscience,” said Det. Gavin.
“These kids don’t think they are going to live past 20. They are just living for the day,” said Det. Kempf
The evidence is seen in YouTube videos uploaded by gang members for everyone to view.
A young Blood member wearing his gang colors to the grave, with his favorite teddy bear by his side.
Two boys waiting for the school bus, filming their gang signs out in the open.
They are in your kids’ classes, and on their friends lists on Facebook and Twitter.
The good news is those same sites open to your children are also open to police, and you better believe investigators are watching.
“We’ve been able to identify victims we didn’t even know about because of the postings,” said Det. Kempf.
“If there is going to be a fight in the neighborhood, it will be on Twitter, we will know way before it happens, right as its forming,” said Det. Hall.
The problem is that these gang members know police are watching and they just don’t seem to care.
In Portsmouth, police say a 17-year-old Blood member openly bragged on his Facebook profile about shooting at a rival Crip, even writing his post in the gang’s language.
“We are just a small concern for them. They are more concerned with promoting themselves and promoting their friends,” said Det. Kemp.
“Some of the worst criminals, people I don’t think will ever change, are some of the youngest I’ve dealt with, it’s very sad,” said Det. Gavin.
So how do we break the cycle? Police say it all comes down to the parents, regardless of long hours at work, or struggling to pay the bills.
“The biggest thing parents can do is pay attention to your kids,” said FBI Special Agent Crosby Brackett.
Before the social media mobster catches their attention instead.