State targets youth violence

Virginia’s attorney general yesterday announced the formation of a statewide gang task force to recommend solutions to the growing problem of youth violence.

“We have a gang problem in Virginia,” Attorney General Jerry W. Kilgore said. “It’s time to admit we have a gang problem and deal with it.”

Mr. Kilgore said the task force will include General Assembly members and law-enforcement officials from federal, state and local government. Members will consider broadening state laws defining gang activity and seek to strengthen penalties for gang activities. Mr. Kilgore said one possibility is to expand the use of racketeering and forfeiture laws so officials can seize the assets of gang members.

“We want to go after gang activity and make sure it’s punished appropriately,” Mr. Kilgore said. He said the task force would also develop education programs to steer children away from gangs.

While an increase in gang activity in Northern Virginia is one target of the initiative, “all areas of Virginia need to focus on this issue and recognize the signs of gang activity,” Mr. Kilgore said.

He cited a May 22 gang-related killing in the George Washington National Forest as one example. Christopher S. Kennedy, 19, of Staunton was found partially submerged in a pond. He died after he was stabbed a dozen times in the upper body.

Police suspect Mr. Kennedy was killed because he wanted to leave a gang.

“It proves to all of us that it’s happening in every part of Virginia — rural, urban and suburban,” Mr. Kilgore said.

Capt. Dwight Wood of the Augusta County Sheriff’s Office said the killing shocked the police as well as the community.

“It wasn’t until this that we realized there was more [gang] activity than we thought,” Capt. Wood said. He said police were aware of the presence of youth gangs, but the only crimes that had been associated with them had been some simple assaults.

Augusta County Sheriff’s officers have arrested four persons in connection with the killing. Capt. Wood said those arrested have confessed to being part of a gang called the Crips.

He said that despite the gang’s name, which is also the name of a notorious Los Angeles street gang, there was no indication that activity in Augusta County had ties to any other gangs outside the county or state.

“If they’re trying to imitate somebody, they’ve done a pretty good job of it,” Capt. Wood said.

In Fairfax County, police welcomed news of the anti-gang initiative.

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