- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 30, 2006

Faith and family must figure large in solving the region’s growing gang violence problem, which also will require mentors who understand street culture, a panel of forum speakers and audience members said yesterday.

“Regardless of the message, one of the things I’ve found is that the message must be modeled by the messenger,” said former Washington Redskins cornerback Darrell Green, who now operates several youth organizations. “I believe the best defense is a great offense.”

Mr. Green was one of several panelists who participated in the Citizens Forum Project on Gang Violence, held at the Arbor Ballroom in The Washington Times building in Northeast.

Other panelists included Robert Woodson, founder of the National Center for Neighborhood Enterprise; the Rev. Fred Shuttersworth, a civil rights leader; Luis Cardona, a former gang member who works with at-risk area youth; and Robert Goodwin, president of the Points of Light Foundation.

About 200 students and residents attended the forum, the fifth in a monthly series, said Brian Bauman, director of The Washington Times Corp.’s Citizens Forum Project.

“One of the things that we’ve got to understand and [bring] into realization is that a gang member is not going to come to the door and say, ‘Hey guys, could you save my life?’ ” said Juan Pacheco, a former gang member who works with gangs to bring peace.

“The probability of that happening is zero-point-zero. So we as individuals have to reach out to them,” said Mr. Pacheco, 28. “We’re tired of violence. We’re tired of our brothers and sisters dying, man, and we need you, and you need us.”

The Times reported yesterday that D.C. officials say there are more than 270 girl gangs alone in the District.

In addition, the number of D.C. Superior Court cases involving female juveniles increased from 445 in 2003 to 571 in 2004. The number of girls brought before the court for violent offenses jumped from 225 in 2003 to 322 in 2004, a 43 percent increase.

T’Chaka Sapp, commissioner for Advisory Neighborhood Commission 8A, asked the all-male panel how the subject of female gangs should be addressed.

“The thing that I see today is a totally different dynamic,” Mr. Sapp said. “It’s the females now that are off the chain, and we need to come up with other methods. I see all men here. We need some females to deal with the female problems on the streets. It’s the girl gangs that are tearing up D.C.”

The panelists said good role models for girls and boys are critical in fighting gang violence.

“It all shows the need for us to work with our young woman so they don’t feed off the attention they get when they act like gladiators protecting their honor,” Mr. Cardona said.

Mr. Green agreed but emphasized the role of the traditional family.

“Somewhere you’ve got to teach a man how to love his wife and how to be a man, and someone’s got to teach the woman how to be a woman,” he said. “Even if you haven’t got a family, someone’s got to lead.”

Mr. Pacheco, who said he is from Falls Church but declined to identify which gang he belonged to, said bringing gang members together to discuss why peace and community are important is also a critical step in ending the violence.

“You’ve got to hold high expectations of these gang members,” he said. “We’ve got to remind them that we are family and that we are brothers and sisters. We are brothers and sisters, so why are we killing each other off?”

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