Former gang member describes changing landscape of gang activity: “What’s making it difficult now is they’re all on social media, and the younger they are, the more high-tech they are”

J.J. Ramirez Photo: KBTX

Recent police reports out of College Station indicate there’s been increased gang activity in the Northgate area.

Some say they’re surprised to hear that, while others claim it’s difficult to spot. While part of that could be attributed to CSPD cracking down on gang activity before it gets out of hand, former gang member J.J. Ramirez says another part of it is the fact that gangs don’t look and act in many of the ways they used to.

Ramirez is also the founder of Save Our Streets Ministries, an organization that helps current gang members leave that world and rebuild their lives. He says the landscape for gang activity, especially in Bryan-College Station, has completely changed since the 1990s.

“What’s making it difficult now is they’re all on social media, and the younger they are, the more high-tech they are,” Ramirez said. “They figure that stuff out, and so they’ve kind of, in a sense, gone underground.”

Ramirez says gangs are now harder to spot with just your eyes. Gangs aren’t wearing their colors or tagging their territory like they used to, so it’s not seen in the neighborhoods like it used to be.

“Before, you could tell the writing was on the wall, literally,” Ramirez said. “They would tag the wall, and you could tell who was beefing with who, and who was even going to get shot.”

He says they’re turning to social media to start their battles.

“Sometimes they even have their own codes that they write in and the other gangs understand it, but other people don’t quite understand it,” Ramirez said. “We’re trying to train our staff to go and understand how they’re communicating and organizing on social media.”

Back in the 90s, Ramirez says gang activity started out with young kids “just wanting to be,” which is why they’re called “wannabes.” But now, Ramirez says activity escalates through the younger people.

“All it takes is a little something for something to seriously pop off, and you’re going to some serious problems in a minute,” Ramirez said. “I’m more afraid of a young 14-year-old with a gun than I am of an adult with a gun, because a 14-year-old doesn’t think about the consequences like an adult will most of the time. Because of that, it can quickly escalate in kids faster than it can in adults.”

Some are coming from outside the community, too, Ramirez says.

“The scary thing is that Houston’s not too far. We’re getting people coming from other communities and doing crime here,” Ramirez said. “You involve people that aren’t known to the community, and that’s a real concern for us.”

Ramirez says it’s tough to know what’s going on without penetrating the culture. He says this new culture on social media makes it more difficult to link gang activity back to a certain neighborhood, especially here locally.

“In my studying, going out and being in the streets is that these acts of violence that we’ve been seeing they’ve been kind of small, but serious. They’re just random. They’re not really connected,” Ramirez said. “You’ve got to get out there amongst them and be in the streets, be there with them, and understand who they are. We have relationships.”

Ramirez says he and his staff develop those relationships into friendships. That’s how they’re able to provide help to those looking for a way out.

“They’re going to test you and make sure you are who you say you are,” Ramirez said. “If you can just save one, then the rest of them see it, and some of them will follow. You de-escalate the situation really, really fast, but you’ve got to penetrate the culture. Instead of pointing to the darkness, we must penetrate it with the light.”

Bryan police told KBTX they haven’t noticed any recent increase in gang activity or violence. College Station police say they have stepped up patrols at Northgate where they’ve noticed an uptick.

Written By: Andy Krauss for KBTX Bryan, Texas

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