Cobb County’s southside gang problem has been a long time in the making, but authorities now say every public high school in the county has at least one gang operating on its campus.
According to statistics from the Cobb County Police Department’s three-member Cobb Anti-Gang Enforcement Unit, about 94 gangs have been identified in Cobb County.
The investigators say gang activity is an issue that continues to grow worse each year in Cobb.
In 2011, Cobb County Police spokesman Sgt. Dana Pierce said police recorded 224 gang-related incidents. That number increased to 244 in 2012 and so far in 2013, 178 incidents have been reported.
An incident is any criminal activity attributed to a gang or its members, ultimately to increase the group’s profit or identity in the community, such as selling drugs, beating up the member of a competing gang or spray-painting graffiti on a public building.
Neither Pierce nor the District Attorney’s Office would identify the most active gangs in Cobb or give the approximate number of gang members in the county.
“We don’t want to spawn fear in the community,” Pierce said.
“There is so much fluidity in terms of identity, with some people who are gang members and others who may be gang associates, that it is difficult to say there is a specific number of gang members in the county on any given day,” said District Attorney Vic Reynolds.
Reynolds said there have been more gang problems in south Cobb.
“Gang activity can affect anyone, anywhere,” he said. “However, we do see more evidence of gang affiliation in the south portion of the county. We are very much concerned with the destruction of families and communities that gangs bring, and we want to do everything we can to keep people safe.”
Recent arrest warrants corroborate Reynolds’ assertions about the prevalence of gang activity in south Cobb.
On Aug. 23, two Smyrna men were arrested after authorities say the men sold marijuana to undercover officers. While searching the men’s home on Auldon court in southeast Cobb, investigators discovered “Bloods” paraphernalia in their bedroom.
The Bloods are a primarily black street gang founded in Los Angeles in the early 1970s.
In early July, four Mableton teens were arrested in connection with the June 30 beating death of 36-year-old Joshua Chellew. They each face charges of murder, aggravated assault and felony street gang activity.
A warrant states the four young men are accused of street gang violence because they belong to the “Re-Up” gang, according to the Cobb Anti-Gang E Unit, and have been previously arrested in connection with gang-related crimes.
But no area of the county is immune to gang activity.
Less than two weeks before that, three Marietta teenagers, who police say are members of the gang “2200,” were accused of breaking into a home off Luther Terrance in west Cobb on Aug. 15 as part of what police say could be part of a “gang initiation.”
In a solidly middle class neighborhood, the teens are accused of breaking into a home and stealing a 32-inch flat-screen TV with the remote control, a laptop computer, four men’s watches, a .380-caliber gun, a box of bullets and an Apple iPod Touch.
“These criminal actions in and of themselves increase the status of the accused within the 2200 criminal street gang … with regards to other criminal street gangs,” the warrant states. “Theft is a common crime for this gang and burglary is a form of initiation.”
The CAGE Unit identified this gang as being started in Cobb and they reportedly meet near the Horseshoe Bend Plaza at 2200 Powder Springs St. west of Marietta.
Battling gang activity in schools
Gang violence and presence isn’t just on the streets. It has also been identified in high schools, middle schools and even elementary schools.
“There is at least one gang in every high school and kids as young as elementary school know stuff about gangs,” said Sgt. Mike Young with the Cobb County School District Public Safety Department.
Young said gang activity tends to run in the family. A kid in middle school might be attracted to his older brother’s gang, or maybe a parent talked glowingly of his gang activity from years ago.
Officer Adam Gravitt, one of two full-time Marietta Police officers who work at Marietta High School, said young people will join gangs for a number of reasons.
“They grow up hard in these neighborhoods and the main reason they join is for safety and love that they don’t get at home,” Gravitt explained. “For the younger males, they usually don’t have a father figure at home and they look to these gang members for that. Also for money … they are poor, so they will commit crimes to put food on the table.”
He said about 10 years ago there were a lot of gangs on the Blue Devil campus but that’s subsided with the help of his department, probation officers and the juvenile court system.
“Are there still gangs in Marietta? Yes, but we just don’t tolerate it,” Gravitt said. “There is zero tolerance and I think the students know that.”
Last year, only one student was arrested on campus in connection to a gang-affiliated crime, but the incident occurred off campus.
Officers in Cobb Schools have only recently turned a closer eye on gangs.
“Up until about five years ago, they would like to say that there are no gangs in Cobb County as far as the schools, but now they are saying it’s not something we can stick our heads in the sand about because it’s here and we need to do something about it,” Young said. “We have always had some type of gang issues at the schools.”
Young was unable to provide information about the number of gang-related incidents they have reported recently or how many gangs or gang members are in schools, but he did talk about various gangs that he personally has dealt with since joining the public safety department 15 years ago.
His first recollection of gang problems were at Awtrey Middle School and North Cobb High in Kennesaw and Tapp Middle School in Powder Springs.
“Up at Awtrey they came up with ACDub, which was short for A-C-W for Acworth,” Young explained. “It started out as a group of cousins in Acworth who were just hanging out, watching each other’s backs that turned into a street gang.”
Shortly after that, Young said he started seeing them getting into altercations – outside of school – with another gang from Marietta High School, “Dem Marietta Boys,” which he said is a prolific gang.
“One of the ACDub guys actually got shot in the neck,” Young remembered. “(Cobb Schools) has been very lucky that we haven’t really had any major problems in the schools, other than fights. Shootings or anything like that, they have been keeping all that stuff at home or on the streets.”
Gangs and rival gangs in south Cobb
A majority of any gang-related problems in the school system are centralized to south Cobb, where Young said they have two officers on each high school campus and another at each of the middle schools.
“Campus police is in the schools, we have a presence and students know that we are there and won’t put up with it,” Young said. “But it’s not like (gang members) are roaming the halls … we just don’t have groups of thugs walking around the hallways, picking on little kids. If they are having a problem with somebody, it’s somebody in their gang or in a rival gang.”
Another notable gang he’s dealt with is 2200, which Young said is a group of teenagers, most of whom are McEachern High School students in south Cobb.
“They have been on the radar for quite a bit,” Young said. “We locked up one member about a week or so ago for loitering and prowling on the campus at Hillgrove (High School in Powder Springs). We couldn’t prove it, but thought he was over there recruiting for 2200.”
He said many of the former gangs like the Ham Squad, Dramaville and Hopkins Road Gang have either disbanded in the last couple of years or were absorbed into 2200.
Other gangs include HHMC, or “Hard Head Money Click,” at Campbell High School in Smyrna, “Yellow Yellow” at North Cobb High School, which stands for the color of meth, and “Hustle Team” at Kennesaw Mountain High School.
Young said members of Hustle Team got in trouble recently for stealing money and phones from gym lockers.
Wheeler High School in east Cobb has had issues as well.
“Two or three years ago, the Cobb Gang Suppression Unit came out with some stats that Wheeler had passed Osborne (High School in Marietta) and Campbell with the number of kids they had on probation for gang-related incidents,” Young said.
He wouldn’t give the names of any gangs at east Cobb’s Wheeler, or if other schools had reported gang problems in recent years.
Attempting to fix the problems in schools
Dealing with gang-related problems in the schools hasn’t been left up to investigations by campus officers.
Teachers, students and administrators are also encouraged to report any suspected gang activity, Young said.
“We do have kids who will come and tell us about incidents, whether it’s a knife in a pocket or backpack,” he said, adding that they don’t pass out information about gangs specifically but always ask students to report anything that’s out of the ordinary.
They have also previously had informative sessions with administrators during post- or pre-planning, helping them identify possible gang-related activities.
At Pine Mountain Middle School in Kennesaw, a student recently drew a five-point crown with dice and an upside-down pitchfork on a test, Young said.
“That’s not enough for us to take any kind of criminal action, except to keep an eye on the kid, but definitely enough for school regulations that he was suspended for five days on gang-related activity,” Young said.
That student’s name will then also be turned over to the CAGE Unit for tracking purposes if needed.
This is part of the protocol the district follows when they suspect similar activity.
They also try to deter the activity by disciplining students if they wear specific colors or bandanas related to gang activity or throw gang signs on campuses.
“We aren’t going to put up with any kind of gang activity in the schools, so they very rarely wear their colors and won’t wear their bandannas,” Young said.