'The Right Direction': Gang Prevention

By KBJR News 1

February 28, 2012 Updated Feb 29, 2012 at 8:51 AM CST

Red Lake, MN (Northland's NewsCenter) - In just the last month, authorities arrested 23 men, across Minnesota on federal charges of racketeering.

A federal indictment connects them to the Native Mob, an organized Native American gang. Like other gangs, the Native Mob targets and recruits young men and women who often have nowhere else to turn.

Authorities, educators and communities are now working harder than ever to push their children away from gangs and in the right direction.

Gang Prevention

Jerome Lebeaux made a life changing choice at the age of 13.

"What happens when you become a gang member was happening. When it was my turn, the older gang member said you have a mom and dad- you have something going for you, go back to it."

LeBeaux, now 34 years old, did return to family. But he says he saw close friends, even family members fall into the grasps of dangerous gangs. The tragic outcomes are sadly echoed by other Minnesota Native Americans in recent years.

"I lost my bother in a gang," a young boy told a crowd in Leech Lake several years ago.

"Just over the last five to 10 years, the growth in the gang problem, behavior in Tribal communities has been significant, said Christopher Grant, a national Native American Gang Specialist.

Grants says the rise of gangs on reservations shows no sign of slowing down.

"Gangs find their strength in numbers, right? More threatening more intimidating, the more there are of them. Plus that age bracket is more susceptible, vulnerable, easily talked into."

Lebeaux has very personal experience with gang violence and is using his experience as a teaching tool.

"Cop knocked on the door. The cousin, first cousin, that was only a year older than me - I grew up my whole entire life - that went to the gang route, got killed."

Violence on the Reservation

From drugs to gangs, Red Lake is no stranger to crime. It's an image that has plagued the reservation for some time. It's an image tribal leaders are working to change.

And it's more than an image. Violence is all too common.

In 2005, a 16-year-old gunman shot and killed 9 people before turning the gun on himself. Most of the deaths happened at Red Lake High school.

In 2010, two men opened fire killing Julian DeMarrias and wounding two others.

"We don't exclude these young people from our community," said Tom Barrett, the Executive Director of the Early Chemical Health Program in red Lake.

Despite the violent acts of crime, Barrett says family and community are important parts of education.

Asking the Hard Questions

"A lot of people don't want to ask these hard questions that's how you get through. You have to be brave enough to ask these tough questions."

Jerome Lebeaux says those questions can range from the simple such as "how was your day" to having talks about drugs and gangs.

LeBeaux asks young natives those questions while sharing his path to spirituality.

"I don't think I'd be here today. I look at my cousins. They're dead or they're in jail."

It's a path helping him educate and remind the prime targets for gang recruitment that help is around the corner.

"There is someone out there that cares for you. There is someone out there who really loves you and doesn't judge you."

Continuing gang prevention efforts, Red Lake is also planning a youth summit for the month of March.

Kevin Jacobsen
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