(Host) About a year ago, police in Lyndonville began getting troubling complaints about a handful of young people who call themselves a gang. The members wear black bandanas and are suspected of violent threats and at least one armed mugging. They aren’t very old-between 12 and 18-but they are spreading fear.
VPR’s Charlotte Albright attended a meeting last night where about 150 residents talked about how to handle the problem.
(Albright) Lyndonville Police Chief Jack Harris says it’s easy to spot the six or seven kids who call themselves "Deathrow 35." They sometimes loiter on the steps of the library, or stalk their prey-usually other teens or even middle schoolers-on a pedestrian bridge behind the Town Hall.
That’s where three kids masked with black and white bandanas mugged another teen at knifepoint last month. He wasn’t hurt but Harris says others have been threatened or beaten, as well as bullied on Facebook. And while he has printouts of those cyber-threats by self-styled gang members who use their own names, nabbing them hasn’t been easy.
(Harris) The problem that we run into is when the parents don’t support you. When the parents of these people are on the computer themselves making a joke out of it. The mother of several of them, when Deathrow 35 first came to light, came on the computer saying "no we’re not a gang, we’re a sports team."
(Albright) But sports teams, Harris notes, do not lace their Facebook pages and Youtube with profanity and threats to kill gay people. Nor do they brandish knives to force a ten year old to hand over his gloves at the local ski slope. But these are the kind of complaints Harris is getting.
He says some of the members, several of whom are siblings, are being hauled into juvenile court for cyber-bullying under Vermont’s hate crimes statute. Meanwhile, what worries him is that in such a small, close-knit community these kids will eventually drag adults into a dangerous Hatfield and McCoy-type feud.
But the six teen-agers hanging out on a side street around the corner from the library one sunny afternoon are not willing to say they are intimidated by Deathrow 35. What makes them mad is that what they call a wannabe gang is giving law-abiding kids who also like to wear baggy pants and backwards baseball hats a bad rap.
(Dustin Lucas) "Hi, I’m Dustin Lucas, I live in Lyndonville Vermont. I’m eighteen. I disagree strongly with the gang stuff going on around here. I think it’s foolish and it doesn’t need to happen. They’re a bunch of kids who think they’re tough and know what life’s about. I think what they need is an awakening and a real harsh, like slapdown, saying you need to smarten up, whether it be jail of some kind or going through the court system because I’ve been through the court system myself and it smartened me up."
(Albright) Lucas doesn’t think the Deathrow 35 gang would go after him, because he’s not young and weak. But some attendees at the community meeting called by Police Chief Harris worried aloud about a possible spike in violent crime triggered by Deathrow 35.
Some favor a community watch system, to keep a closer eye on the kids and report bad behavior. Others plan to research a local alternative to juvenile court called "community justice."
For VPR News, I’m Charlotte Albright, in Lyndonville.