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By Mike Sandrolini
Gangs are here in Maywood. That’s a fact.
Maywood Police Lt. Dennis Diaz, whom Police Chief Val Talley says is the department’s gang expert, estimates that there are 13 known gangs in the village. The majority of shootings that occur in Maywood are gang-related.
“We have a slice of almost any major gang (that can be found) in the city (of Chicago),” said Diaz following a recent seminar on gangs that was open to the public and hosted by the police department late last month at Maywood Village Hall. “Smaller factions of those (gangs are) in Maywood.”
“Anytime Chicago has an increase in violence, it trickles down to the suburbs,” Diaz said. “We’re no different than any other towns that border Chicago, due to our proximity to the city.”
The Police Department combats gangs in the village through its internal intelligence unit, which is comprised of Maywood patrol officers.
“There’s about 10 of them from different shifts,” Diaz explained. “What they do is document gang members, graffiti and types of gang crime. Based on that intelligence, they put out weekly bulletins that they (officers) disseminate among themselves. Armed with that intelligence, our tactical unit takes proactive enforcement.”
Talley added that the tactical unit consists of two police personnel.
“We’ve trained them up through the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration) so that they’re experts at dealing with drug, gang and narcotic operations,” Talley said. “They’re deployed to specifically look for narcotic and gang activity within the community.”
Talley said the tactical unit averages four search warrants per month, through which things such as guns, drugs and illegal monies are confiscated.
Diaz estimated the median age for gang members is 24 years old, but “they can go as low as 14 years old,” he said.
Talley and members of the police department recently went to Proviso East High School and saw approximately 800 students with whom they had dialogues about gangs and gang activity.
And they were accompanied by someone who helped drive home the message about staying out of gangs because she’s experienced firsthand what gang involvement can do not only to an individual, but to their family.
Valerie Goodloe—a Los Angeles-based photojournalist who has photographed, in her words, “almost every movie star there is” and also had been with the traveling press for former President Barack Obama—produced a documentary in 2011 titled, “Gang Girl: A Mother’s Journey to save her Daughter.”
The documentary was shown to Proviso East students.
As the documentary’s title suggests, it chronicles Goodloe’s struggles to help her daughter, Nafeesa, who became involved in the LA Bloods Gang, get out of that gang and the gang lifestyle. Interviews with Nafeesa, police, relatives, lawmakers and other gang members are featured in the documentary.
Goodloe, who speaks at schools, organizations and prisons across the country, had no idea her daughter was involved with gangs—“in L.A., a lot of girls are in gangs,” she said—until Goodloe ironically began researching a story she was doing about girls and gang affiliations.
Goodloe thought things were fine at home—Nafeesa was being raised in a middle class Muslim home in L.A. However, Goodloe noted at the seminar that she “found clothes and stuff that she (her daughter) had hidden in the back yard, scarves and other things that led me to believe she was associated with gangs. She was going to a private school and ready to transition into public school, she was wearing (gang) colors under her uniform.”
Nafeesa’s involvement with the gang led her to run away from home. She also had run-ins with the law and spent time in jail.
“I was scared of her getting killed or her killing someone,” Goodloe said. “I’m scared of those things or scared of her not wanting to live anymore.”
Goodloe said in the documentary that the only time she experienced peace of mind while Nafeesa was involved in a gang was when her daughter was in custody.
“That’s my only peace,” she said. “I don’t have to worry about her getting shot that night or getting busted that will cause her never to come home again.”
A police officer interviewed for the documentary pointed out that there were 7,500 gang members in a particular 12-square mile area of L.A. Hispanic girls were the first to join girls gangs, but over the past 15 years, he said, black women in gangs “have definitely jumped in numbers.”
“Gangbanging is addictive,” Nafeesa said in the documentary. “Gangbangers love what they do; there’s excitement. A friend of mine was shot, it’s rough out here but that’s the chances that you take.”
There is a happy ending to Valerie and Nafeesa’s plight. Nafeesa left the gang and is now working as a gang relations specialist with the city Queens, N.Y. probation department.
During the seminar, Goodloe said having a stable home with a parent, or parents, who are actively involved in their children’s lives is a key to reducing the chances of having that child turn to gangs. Goodloe pointed to her own life—having six children from three different men, and going through a divorce with Nafeesa’s father—as factors that likely contributed to Nafeesa joining a gang.
“Each time I had a baby, I vowed that this would be my last man; it was going to be forever. When we got divorced, she felt abandoned,” Goodloe said. “Those little things are the things that drive them to the streets.
“I’m here to hopefully start a movement of change. We can put our head in sand and think nothing’s going on, or we can take action,” added Goodloe, who applauded Talley and the police department for being proactive and hosting the seminar. “All the kids (in the documentary) said they chose gangs because of drugs, of abuse and that they didn’t have anyone to talk to. If they’re going home to all these abuses, how is any program going to be great if you’re not attacking what’s going on in the house?
“It’s hard nowadays to put things in the right order if you want things to work, but you have to get back to square one.”
Goodloe said she grows impatient with those who refer to themselves as victims and survivors of a particular trauma or tragedy.
“We’re victims of this and survivors of that,” she said. “(The late actress) Mary Tyler Moore said, ‘I’m not a survivor, I’m a thriver.’ There is hope; your life can change.”