Next: Intermediate signs. These signs are found among students who are probably affiliating, or who might be affiliating with gangs, but who are not beyond help. Although they take gang members as their role models, they may choose more wholesome role models as well. But they most easily relate to and feel affinities with gang members.
More intermediate signs:
●The use of gang hand signs, often in group photographs with their friends. I asked one mother to show me her daughter's photo album. One was a school photo, in which she was nicely dressed and in a formal pose. But at the back of the album, there was a group photo of her with her friends. They were all dressed up in full gang clothing and apparel. The girls were wearing heavy make-up and party clothes. Everyone in the photo was giving a different hand sign that the police were able to identify as belonging to specific gangs. Often, when I bring this up during counseling sessions, students will say, "Oh, come on! I'm just wearing what's in style."
●Grades going down in all areas—not just one or two areas, but all areas.
●Unexcused absences from school that parents are often unaware of until much later. When I go into the schools looking for students who might be in potential trouble, the first place I look is the attendance records. If I notice any students with a pattern of absences, I call them in for counseling. Example case: A girl student whose record showed a consistent pattern of absences from school every other Friday, or every other Monday. The attendance clerk said to me, "Oh, we phoned her mother, and she explained that this girl has all-day medical appointments." I thought, "All day?" Then I called the girl in and talked with her for a little while, got a little family background and history, went back to the attendance clerk and said, "The next time you call home to this girl's house, please make sure you have somebody who speaks Vietnamese or Cantonese." The attendance clerk said, "Why is that?" "Well, apparently the mother speaks no English. But this student does have a sister who dropped out of high school." (Obviously her sister was posing as her mother and covering for her.) By providing that kind of information to the schools and community programs, parents can make a critical difference in our ability to help their children.
●Curfew is broken consistently and without explanation.
●Open defiance toward authority, either toward parents, or toward school and other officials. Some of these students are fine at home, but are out of control at school, or vice versa.
●Possession of lethal weapons, which the child claims to have found, been given, or stole from someone else. Mother asks, "What's that doing in your purse? I never gave you a knife." "Somebody gave me that as a birthday present," the child responds. We had a thirteen-year-old student who was put in juvenile hall because he got caught on campus with a hand gun, and his reaction to being caught was, "But it's a birthday present from my friend! I wasn't going to use it on anybody!"
●Possession of unexplained sums of money or property: Pagers parents did not give them, expensive clothing they did not give them, electronics they did not give them.
●Having gang member friends, or having friends who consistently dress in gang attire.
●Use of alcohol or drugs on a regular basis to cope with life.
To be continued