Gang members live only on the west side of Salt Lake City. All gang members are blacks, Hispanics or Tongans. Gang members are responsible for large quantities of drugs being transferred into the city.
These are misconceptions that much of the public holds about gangs in Salt Lake City, misconceptions that Carlos A. Jimenez, Salt Lake Community College director of human rights, wants city councils, law enforcement officers and others to realize."People have to stop thinking this is just a Hispanic-west side problem," he said.
Jimenez said Salt Lake City has a fast-growing gang problem. But that problem is citywide, he said. White middle-class and upper-class youths also are involved in gangs, and the whole city is responsible for combatting the problem from different angles, he said.
In comparison to larger cities such as Los Angeles and Denver, Salt Lake's gang involvement is small. Only about 1 percent to 3 percent are hard-core gang members, with a larger number of "wannabes" and "gonnabes." In other big cities there is another category of regular gang members between the hard core and the "gonnabes," Jimenez said. This type of member is growing in Salt Lake City, he said, and will become impossible to combat if the problem is not stopped soon, he said.
Through extensive research, Jimenez said he has found similarities in the backgrounds of gang members. He said most come from a single-parent home, have uneducated parents, have parents who use alcohol or drugs, are high school dropouts or possibly use drugs and alcohol themselves.
"In order to stop this problem, you have to attack it," he said. "Literally, you have to attack it from many different areas, from many different angles."
Youths join a gang because it gives them a sense of belonging and offers protection from other neighborhood gangs. Jimenez said there also are underlying causes such as cultural differences, language barriers, religion, under-employment or unemployment, racism and discrimination.
Realizing the city has limited resources, Jimenez said the first step in alleviating the growth of gangs is preventive education in kindergarten and the first and second grades. He said these children can learn communication skills, values and the danger of drugs, alcohol and gangs.
"These kids need to understand that being in a gang you may never get out," Jimenez said. "The only way you get out is to get killed or beat up to the point where you get put in the hospital."
More street workers engaging in outreach programs also could combat the current gang problem, Jimenez said. Gang members learn to trust the workers and find ways to redirect their energy.
Jimenez is closely involved with the education of low-income parents. He said Salt Lake Community College serves a high percentage of handicapped, minority and single-parent students. He believes getting needy parents a high school and college education will help them acquire a better-paying job - which in return allows them more quality time to spend with their children.
"The solution can be very simple, and we will save more children if we get more people involved."
Even if people are unable to donatetime in combatting the gang problem, Jimenez said, they can help by donating scholarship money for disadvantaged students or by offering jobs.
"If we don't address the problem on a serious level, the gangs will become much more drug oriented or become more involved with the drug trafficking . . . or become more violent on a much wider scale than what we've seen, Jimenez said. "They'll become more widely established in the city to the point where they cannot be stopped. The seed is already planted. Gangs are already here."
In alerting the community to the growing gang problem, Jimenez has been meeting with City Council members, Community Council members and educators. Parents of alleged gang members join with him in these awareness meetings.