Editorial: Are STHS fights merely isolated incidents?
The recent fights at South Tahoe High School are disturbing in themselves but may point to simmering hostility on a larger level.
The latest incident Thursday morning involved four girls: Two reportedly fought over a boyfriend, and two others watching the melee allegedly jumped a female faculty member when she tried to break up the fight. All the girls are between 14 and 17 years old.
Officers took the four to the Juvenile Treatment Center in South Lake Tahoe. According to South Lake Tahoe police Sgt. Brad Williams, the two girls suspected in the initial fight face misdemeanor battery charges. The girls who allegedly attacked the faculty member face felony charges of battery upon a school official with injury.
Thursday morning’s violence was at least the fifth fight to occur within a week among South Tahoe High School girls.
Williams said last week that the fights don’t appear to be gang-related.
“There’s nothing to point to gang activity at all,” he said.
Williams, who heads the police department’s Gang Enforcement Division, said participants in the recent fights don’t meet the legal criteria for gang members.
According to California Penal Code section 186.22, the Street Terrorism Enforcement and Prevention Act, gang members are defined as: “Any person who actively participates in a criminal street gang with knowledge that its members engage in or have engaged in, a pattern of criminal gang activity and who willfully promotes, furthers or assists in any felonious criminal conduct by members of that gang.”
Given that definition, Williams’ contention the fights weren’t gang-related probably is right. More worrisome, though, is where that out-of-control aggression might lead.
In the past several months, Williams has witnessed an increase in what he calls the “gang-wannabe phenomenon.”
The wannabes, he explains, are kids who say they’re affiliated with gangs but aren’t.
“They dress the dress, they walk the walk, and they need our attention, but they do not meet the legal criteria of a gang member,” Williams said last week. “The whole thing is that wannabes can be dangerous, but most of the time they are not.”
School officials say the girls call their alliances “factions” and “cliques,” but not gangs.
We’ll take the students’ word for it, but on the surface it sounds like so much semantics. Take last week’s skirmish, for example.
We can understand why a couple of girls might fight over a boy, but what in blazes were the other two thinking when they jumped a teacher?
Who would do anything that foolish except to gain attention, prove worthiness or defend a “clique?” The girls obviously are dangerous, but are they wannabes or already gang members? Their behavior suggests that possibility, though they may not meet strict legal criteria.
For parents concerned their kids may be in with the wrong crowd, Williams suggests moms and dads become vigilant: Search your children’s rooms, notebooks and backpacks. If you find anything you suspect is gang-related, call the police to determine the best ways to approach the situation.
Don’t give your kids a blank check, Williams advises.
“You have to raise kids so that one day they are prepared to be adults themselves,” he says. “You want to trust kids, but you don’t want to trust them blindly. Let them earn their trust.”