Chatting with gangs

Wednesday, June 4th 2008, 3:43 pm
By: News 9

Most of us were getting ready to head out the door late Saturday night when an Oklahoma City police officer yelled for back-up on the radio. He had just witnessed a drive-by shooting on the southeast side of the city.   We didn't find out until we arrived 15 minutes later that the victims were six teenagers.

Fast forward to Sunday.

It was shortly after noon when photojournalist John Almendarez and I drove back to the neighborhood for a follow-up story.  We were in search of victims and people who may have known the accused.  We're always a tad bit nervous driving back out to the scene of a crime because you never know what kind of hostility you're going to encounter from family, neighbors or friends.

As we pulled up, I was shocked.  If I didn't know better, I would have told you this area of SE 21st was just like any other on that side of town.  Minus the occasional low-riding vehicle blaring music so loud and muffled you can't make out the lyrics, it was quiet and kids were outside running around acting their age.

We found the house where the teens were shot and we were greeted outside by a young looking lady who identified herself as the mom of the kids who live there.  She told us her daughter's friends were visiting the night before when the gunmen drove by and shot them.

I chatted with the mom and her daughter and after a few minutes, a few more TV trucks dotted the neighborhood, and the next thing I know we were drawing a crowd that included the daughter's friends.  I specifically remember the teens telling me they had no idea who the gunmen were and they couldn't imagine why they would be the target of such a crime.    "What about gangs?", I asked and "no way" was the response.

Fast forward to Tuesday

I was at home watching the news last night when one report said police were now confirming that the shootings were, in fact, gang related.   There was one reporter who interviewed one of the victims who admitted that the teens were all involved in gangs and that was the result of the shootings.

Interesting, I thought to myself.  If this is true, it's wild to sit back and think that on Sunday I was chatting face-to-face with gang members.  I'm smart enough to know that all gang members don't fit the stereotypical "big man with a red or blue bandanna across his forehead" type, but maybe it was the age of these kids that threw me off. 

They were 13.  Some were 14.   The oldest there may have been 17.

I tried to think back to what I was doing at the age of 14 and I think Nintendo and homework came to mind.   Yup, I think I should be doing more homework now.  I'm almost 30 and obviously there's still a lot I need to learn about our new batch of kids who are growing up --- obviously way too fast.

Rusty Surette