By Karen Hall
Gangs are active in Marshall County, the school board's policy committee was told last week, and their symbols are everywhere, in graffiti, tattoos, colors, and logos, even in certain sequences of letters or numbers.
The eye-opening report came from Lewisburg Police Officer John Christmas who spoke during a Power Point presentation when the committee met at the school system's central office.
Christmas has been studying gangs for three years, he said. During his first six years on the police force, he said he didn't think there were gangs in the county. Then he was sent to a training session on gangs, and after that he started seeing indications everywhere.
Now, Christmas said, if he spots gang-related graffiti in Lewisburg, he gets the Public Works Department to remove it right away.
He showed pictures of gang graffiti he'd found around Lewisburg, and pictures of gang tattoos on people he'd interviewed.
"The Vicelords are the biggest gang in this county," Christmas said. "Most all gangs are involved with drugs - either selling or using."
He warned the audience not to dismiss the importance of teenagers even thinking about gang membership.
"If they're a 'wannabe,' they're a 'gonna-be,'" Christmas said.
The information about gangs fit in with board members' other topic of discussion at last week's meeting: standardized school attire. As Christmas revealed, a lot of a gang's identity is expressed in what they wear and how they wear it.
"These people really believe in this," Christmas said. "A lot of gang members are proud of it."
One section of the Power Point was a short video of a student removing an astonishing array of knives and guns from inside his baggy pants and un-tucked shirt.
Marshall County schools' current dress code specifies that clothing must be worn "size appropriate," with all shirts tucked into waistbands. Cargo pants and shorts are generally banned because their large numerous pockets are perfect hiding places for all sorts of contraband.
Christmas reminded board members of the shooting at Richland School in neighboring Giles County in 1995, when a student got into the building with a rifle concealed under a long coat.
"I hope it doesn't ever happen here," he said.
Marshall County's policy already states, "Gang-related slogans, names, apparel, etc., are not permitted."
Christmas' talk, however, revealed that even sports team logos can be gang related: the Green Bay Packers "G" can stand for Gangster Disciples, while the Atlanta Braves "A" can mean Almighty Vicelords, and the Dallas Cowboys five-pointed star is also the symbol of the People Nation, sworn enemies of the Folk Nation.
Clothing like this is eliminated under Maury County's standardized school attire policy, which prohibits logos or manufacturers' trademarks larger that two inches square.
"It's interesting to see how much I'm missing on a daily basis," Mt. Pleasant High School principal Beverly Miller said after Christmas' presentation. At Mt. Pleasant some cafeteria trays are red and others blue, and she couldn't understand why students took pains to select a color. Now, after Christmas' presentation, she knows the colors belong to two rival gangs.
When they have to buy new trays, Miller said, they'll get green ones.