The word "gang" can bring to mind various images, many of which may seem foreign to everyday life. Yet gangs — and gang violence — may be closer than you think.
"Here in Birmingham, our officers deal with neighborhood groups rather than nationally based gangs … Unfortunately, we have seen these groups in all four precincts," said Sgt. Monica Law, Public Information Officer with the Birmingham Police Department.
Officers say these groups have turf wars – basically, certain groups can't enter the space occupied by other groups.
"Members of these groups have been known to be as young as 12 years old ... These groups have been known to commit crimes ranging from narcotics sales to more serious crimes such as robberies and homicides," Law added.
According to Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin's Facebook posts in 2022, what the police department refers to as "groups" are actually gangs.
After a deadly weekend in 2022, the mayor wrote:
We believe some of these senseless murders are gang related.
If you have a son or a friend that’s in or affiliated with H2K, 6500 boys, 420, TMSG, or CPMG, please reason with them. Ask them to call a truce, ask them to lay low, ask them to chill and put the guns down.
Too many lives have been lost and none of this is worth the cycle of retaliation and death that's crippling our community and literally snatching your sons' lives.
To the parents, loved ones, children and friends – please connect with your teenager and/or young men affiliated with these gangs and help us find peace.”
U.S. Attorney Prim Escalona stated, "Homicides are up in three of the city's four precincts … [and] in regard to age, the vast majority of homicides in Jefferson County are committed by older adults. Fifty-six of 87 identified homicide offenders this year are 24 years old or older. Only eight homicides are known to have been committed by someone who is younger than 18."
That does not mean the U.S. Attorney's Office is ignoring the younger population in Jefferson County.
"Within the federal justice system, we do not prosecute juvenile offenders, but we do invest resources in community-based prevention programming that can improve life outcomes for at-risk youth," Escalona said. "We do recognize that there are youth within the community that are exhibiting risky behavior, which could eventually make them of interest to state and federal law enforcement."
Woodfin's call aligns with the U.S. Attorney's perspective in striving to stop violence before it can start.
"Our office will always seek to prevent a crime versus prosecuting a crime," Escalona continued. "There is strong data that links juvenile literacy with future criminal conduct."
Escalona referenced various studies revealing that 85% of juveniles in the juvenile court system are functionally illiterate, along with more than 60% of all prison inmates, and approximately 65% of Alabama's inmates have not completed high school or received a GED.
"Consequently, the U.S. Attorney's Office invests resources in literacy intervention programming for students within Birmingham City Schools," Escalona explained. "Our office provides other school-based support, including working with the Jefferson County District Attorney's Helping Families Initiative, which supports families of students who have school attendance issues. Additionally, we provide support to service providers who serve as mentors for youth that are students in Birmingham's alternative school."
The U.S. Attorney's Office says that while gangs might commit a majority of violent offenses, solving Birmingham's crime problem is more complex than just addressing gangs.
"Research shows that gang members tend to make up one-half of 1% of a city's population but account for more than 50% of all violent crime committed in those cities," Escalona continued. "There are loosely affiliated groups of violent offenders in Birmingham that commit repeated retaliatory shootings with other violent groups within the community. Too often, innocent people within our community are caught within the crossfire of retaliatory violence between gangs."
And when it comes to minors and crime, the U.S. Attorney says every adult must step up.
"Our entire community has a stake and responsibility to support children that are growing up in the midst of violence," Escalona advised. "Voluminous research shows that adverse childhood experiences, such as witnessing or experiencing violence, puts kids at a greater risk for many unfavorable outcomes later in life. Building resiliency in kids who have been impacted by trauma and violence is the best tool that we can give them to seek something better and healthier in life. There are many great programs in our community that seek to build hope, resiliency and opportunities for our local youth. We need to keep investing in these programs and services to best ensure a safe and healthy future for Birmingham's children."
To help citizens keep an eye on what's happening with crime in their community, the Jefferson County District Attorney's Office has developed a new website with up-to-date crime information regarding homicides and known offenders, and the results may surprise you.
"What the JCDA's new data site indicates is a strong correlation between domestic violence offenders committing homicides across our community," explained Escalona. "In 2021, 74% of homicides in Jefferson County were committed by people with prior domestic violence offenses. Based upon the strong, consistent correlation that we see between domestic violence and community violence, the U.S. Attorney's Office is working with local partners and community service providers to engage earlier with both victims and perpetrators of domestic violence. Our shared goal is to better extend protections to victims and to impose greater oversight to firearms access by violent offenders."
And locally, speaking of domestic violence, Birmingham police say they battle it the best they can.
"A detective from our Special Victim's Section contacts victims to advise the options available to them should they want to prosecute or if they need resources such as shelter, job placement, counseling or an advocate," said Law. "Those additional resources are available through our partners, YWCA and One Place. Detectives are seeking prosecution as often as they can if they have enough information to present to a magistrate or to the District Attorney's Office."
Law wants those dealing with domestic violence to know help is available.
"We encourage anyone who feels they need help to reach out to us, or they may reach out to our partners regardless of if they choose to make a police report or not. We want people to be able to safely resolve their issues and speaking with the YWCA (205-322-4878) or One Place (205-453-7261) might be the help they need," Law added.
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