WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- On Aug. 22, 2019, three teenagers were shot off South Main Street in Winston-Salem. The next day, a 23-year-old was shot and killed at South Main and Silas Creek Parkway. A half-year later, a group is setting out to cut down on violence in that area and Winston-Salem as a whole. They say much of it starts with specific groups. Those groups, they say, are gangs.
“They’re more prevalent than you want to know,” said Bill McClain, who grew up in the city. “We don’t like to talk about it but it’s real.”
McClain is just one member of Winston-Salem’s Gang Steering Committee. The committee is community-based but operates with the support of the Forsyth County Sheriffs Office and Winston-Salem Police Department.
“Our job is to make sure that it doesn’t get worse,” McClain said.
Two weeks into 2020, the committee gathered just miles up the road from where the above shootings occurred. Armed with fliers, they took to the streets and sidewalks to spread the word: gangs are not the way.
The fliers, detailing “risk factors, warning signs, why kids join [gangs], what you can do,” were handed out to people in the community and left in their doors.
“I care about my community,” member David Moore said. “I have to live in this community.”
Moore wasn’t always a law-abiding citizen.
“I was one of those guys on the other end of the community,” he said.
After doing hard time, he started a program for at-risk youth.
“It made me wake up and realize how other guys were looking at me,” he said. “Younger kids were wanting to be like me and I’m not doing the right things.”
Moore and other members who live in the area visited their neighbors and surrounding homes, letting them know why they’re doing what they are.
“I think it’s wonderful. I think it’s wonderful,” said Darryl McDonald, who has lived in his neighborhood of South Main for about 15 years.
The risk factors detailed in the flier include things such as growing up in an area with gang activity, too little adult supervision and a sense of hopelessness about the future. Under the “why kids join gangs” section, reasons include a “sense of connection or family,” desire for protection and material goods.
Listed beneath the “what you can do section,” it says if you suspect that your child is involved with gangs, contact the school or Winston-Salem Gang Unit immediately, emphasizing that early intervention is essential.
Finally, under warning signs, indicators include a child having “unexplained cash or goods,” wearing clothing of one type, style or color, using or possessing drugs or weapons and declining school attendance, performance and behavior.
“[We] let these young people know we care and to teach them new and innovative ways to make a living,” McClain said, as a director of an after-school program.
“I go after the leaders,” Moore said. “If I get the leaders, the followers will follow.”
The committee is comprised of three “action teams.” The three include The Prevention/Intervention Community Action Team, which creates a personalized intervention plan for every individual they work with. Next is The Law Enforcement-Suppression and Education Action Team, which works to suppress gang activity and provides gang awareness training. Lastly, is The Clergy/Counseling Community Action Team, which provides services to address the mental and emotional needs of individuals – and their families – who are in gangs or at risk.
“Let’s get involved,” McDonald said, after speaking with Moore. “The whole neighborhood community.”
The committee says it is not set up to accept direct applications from individuals or families seeking assistance. For a referral to the committee, contact the Winston-Salem Police Department Gang Unit at (336) 986-9484.