Gangs are a part of Amarillo’s culture. Whether they’re a large part or a small part depends on who you ask.
But they’re here. They roam some of our streets, they commit crimes — some of which are violent, they prey on others, they deface public and private property with their “tags.” They’re living among us.
A recent day-long seminar at Amarillo College brought together a lot of folks from throughout the Texas Panhandle to hear a lecture from one of our city’s experts on gangs. This blog post is the first in a series of such entries that calls attention to this situation in Amarillo and the Panhandle.
The seminar was led by Amarillo Police Cpl. Steve Powers, who once headed the police department’s gang unit. He’s now back on patrol, given that APD has disbanded its gang unit. Powers, though, remains a valuable resource for those seeking counsel, expertise and knowledge of gang activity.
The gang-bangers refer to Powers as “Flaco,” which translated loosely from Spanish means “skinny.” One look at Powers’s wiry frame and you know he earned the nickname.
His lecture lasted all day at Amarillo College’s West Campus, in its criminal justice division building.
The event brought together Texas Department of Public Safety troopers, officers from Potter/Randall/Armstrong County adult and juvenile probation departments, municipal police officers from throughout the Panhandle, juvenile supervision officers employed at the Youth Center of the High Plains, sheriff’s deputies and educators.
The intent of the class was to educate law enforcement officials on how to deal with gangs.
Powers’s first bit of advice? “These kids aren’t normal,” he said. “They aren’t raised like most kids.” They come from dysfunctional families usually composed of a single parent … or no parents. “You can’t treat these kids as criminals,” he said, acknowledging that they do, indeed, commit criminal acts. “You need to talk to them,” he admonished.
In fact, about the only “family” many of these kids know is within the gangs. The older gang members bring the young members up with them, educate them, and “talk better with each other than we do.”
Gang life is a fact in Amarillo, according to Powers. It has produced an underground culture in virtually all neighborhoods; it includes young people of virtually ever racial and ethnic background; and it results in plenty of heartache for those who get caught up in this lifestyle.
I intend to explore some of the findings revealed in the seminar.
First things first. I want to thank Amarillo College for playing host to this event. It opened quite a few eyes, including mine.