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Columbia County Observer

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Lake City Florida: Gangs 101 


Lake City youth give gang signs outside of Lake City's notorious apartment complexe, Cedar Park Apartments. (LCPD photo, from Paul Cash power point)

LAKE CITY, FL – At 4 pm yesterday afternoon, the Lake City Police Department held a gang community awareness meeting. This meeting was planned two weeks earlier through the efforts of Richardson Middle School Principal, Bessie Whitefield, who because of gang related issues at her school called Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter and set up a meeting. This meeting was attended by the LCPD's Paul Cash. Investigator Cash was instrumental in coordinating yesterday's gang meeting at the LCPD.

LCPD's Investigator Paul Cash: He tries to keep children out of gangs

LCPD Investigator Paul Cash is Lake City/Columbia County's recognized gang expert in residence. He has been tracking gang activity in the City/County for more than five years. He monitors Facebook every day looking for the signs of gang emulation or activity from the city's youth. He said parents must check their children's Facebook page every day.

Investigator Cash told the group that gang members in Lake City range from 8 to 30. "We are seeing a lot more gang activity in the Middle School," he said.

Investigator Cash presented a list of preventative and proactive measures: participation in activities – resource center, churches, be a positive role model, listen to your children, spend quality time with children, put a high value on quality education, involve children in positive group activities, and teach children decision making skills.

Investigator Cash:  Right now I am working on a child at Lake City Middle School that's a star athlete, but he is borderline becoming a gang member. I am trying to talk him out of it.

CCA's Khalid Rentz: Parents are falling to sleep

Khalid Rentz is Corrections Corporation of America's gang expert. He addressed the gathering.

"My name is Khalid Rentz. I am a Security Investigator for Corrections Corp. of America. I deal with gang activity on a day to day basis. I see two or three hundred gang members in the prisons every single day. To me it is not a question -- are the gangs here – it is just a matter of how big and what are we going to do about it?"

Mr. Rentz continued, "This is the best thing you can do. It's about prevention. Parents, you are falling to sleep at the wheel. We've got to get in these kids business. We've got to get into their Facebook accounts."

Mr. Rentz, a Lake City native, concluded, "This is my village right here and I really don't want to see my community go down that [gang] path. You can stop it now."

LCPD's Police Chief Gilmore:  She wants a holistic resolution

LCPD's Chief Gilmore explained the path to a solution this way: Anytime you are resolving an issue or resolving a problem, you identify the problem... If we are going to make a holistic resolution to the issues, we get the stakeholders at the table. Stakeholders are in the house today, and today is not the day we are going to bring the whole answer to the problem... Our next plan is to come up with solutions together. We are going to deal with the issues head on in this community.

Former gang leader, Earnest Manatee, a man who know both sides of the street

One of the stakeholders in the house was past renowned gang leader, Earnest Manatee. Mr. Manatee told the Observer, "I have spent 16 of my 44 years in jail.

In plain English, that means that Mr. Earnest Manatee has spent over 1/2 of his adult life in jail.

Mr. Manatee continued, "When I went to school I didn't take it seriously. I didn't try to learn anything. All I wanted to do was play football and fight."

Mr. Manatee told the group, "We've got to reach the youth. I've been shot five times. I've been to prison five times.... You've got to get down with the kids where they're at. Don't give up on those kids."

Linard Johnson – School Board member, teacher:
Part of the problem or part of the solution?

School Board Member Johnson: We have to reach kids a lot earlier than we are reaching them. If we wait for the high school we'll get behind the ball... We're talking 6th graders... Some kids just don't have the kind of parents that they need to keep them focused... They go outside looking for a family... If we don't start reaching these kids early through an education program, we'll be fighting this on the wrong end every time.

Linard Johnson was elected to the Columbia County School Board in 2002. During his tenure Columbia County High School spent years on the edge of being shut down by the state for poor performance. The reading scores that came out of the middle school had over 60% of the students barely able to read

Epilogue

After the meeting Mr. Rentz told the Observer, "The issue is not really in law enforcement."

Deborah Hill, the straight up Principal of Columbia County's school of last resort, the Challenge School: The problem is bad. Folks are focused. I am hopeful.

Terry Lamoreaux from the Florida Department of Corrections was the last one the Observer spoke with on the way out, "This is a stepping stone. We are going to figure it out."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On March 26, Concerned in Lake City wrote:

The caption under the photo say's "Lake City youth give gang signs outside of Lake City's notorious apartment complex, Cedar Park Apartments". Isn't this the same apartment complex where law enforcement were called out to several times in just one day back in September of 2011? The same place where there were reports of fighting and rioting? And yet there are a couple of people that say nothing was going on? That law enforcement were just "harassing" these people? The same apartment complex where complaints were filed against law enforcement for doing what they are trained to do? What they were sworn to do? To protect the citizens, the same citizens that are involved in these gangs. And yet they are investigated for doing their jobs.

Now people are saying "We have a problem here and something needs to be done." Lake City's ugly secret is out, we have teenage gangs with guns who are fighting each other, shooting each other, burglarizing homes and selling drugs.

Are these gang members that were being defended by Rudolph Davis, The self proclaimed "Spokesperson" for this complex? The same complex that Councilman Jake Hill criticized law enforcement for doing their jobs?

 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

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