Before turning the lights down, gang expert Carter Hickman warned the scattering of young men in the room: “The things that I am going to show you tonight I do not want you to let go to your head like you can beat the system.” He assured the audience that the footage he was about to show them was real.
Later, a chilling video of a drive-by shooting played.
In it, three gang members gun down a pedestrian from their car; they fire more than 13 shots at the victim. Then, one member gets out and fires another four shots at the victim lying on the ground. They drive away from the crime scene, laughing.
The victim was not killed for being a gang member. Instead, he was the unlucky target of a ritual gang initiation.
The video was only 15 seconds, but it left an impact. One man asked Hickman, as if for verification again, whether the events in the video happened.
“This is real,” said Hickman. “We couldn’t have made this up. We received this video from a gang member during an interrogation.”
He was talking to a crowd of audience members at Outreach Ministries’ first gang-prevention program at Tallahassee Community Center. It was part of a three-day “Anti-Violence” campaign.
At the start of his presentation, Hickman asked a friend in the audience to tell them about him.
That friend revealed that Hickman was a gang member in his youth in Havana, Fla.
“My friends and I had our own hallway in school,” said Hickman. “Females that came down the hallway expected to get felt up. And guess what? If you had a problem with it, we’ll beat you up too. We didn’t care.”
For organizer Kimberly Thomas, gang violence was much more real than most people in the audience. In a 2007 shooting much like the one shown, her young relative was killed for a gang initiation.
Afterward, she started “Another Cry: Save our Youth” program in Fort Pearce, Fla.
“We started the program five years ago after my god sister’s son was murdered for a gang initiation,” said Thomas. “Since we now live here in Tallahassee, we wanted to bring it here. We want it to turn into a statewide, and even nationwide, effort.”
Hickman said young people choose gangs for many reasons, including intimidation from members, influence from family and a need for recognition. Small towns – like Tallahassee and Havana – are not immune to gang violence. In fact, Hickman said, at least three gangs — including “The Holton Street Boy,” “4th Ave. Players,” and “The Lake Bradford Boys” — occupy sections of this city.
“How do you think small cities like Tallahassee are exposed to gangs?” said Hickman. “These gang members of smaller gangs go to prison and become apart of larger, more powerful gangs. They bring this back to the community.” This process is referred to as ‘gang migration.'”
Audience member Angela Rims was “shocked” to learn about the gang activity in Leon County.
“You never think about protecting your children from being influenced by gangs in such a small city,” said Rims, “but no matter what, you must be a parent.”
Hickman focused specifically on the largest gang in the United States — named “Folk Nation,” an assembly of various gangs including “Cobras”, “La Raza” and “Gangster Disciples” founded by Larry Hoover (made more recently relevant through rapper Rick Ross’s “Blowin’ Money Fast” single).
Although Hoover is serving a 200-year sentence in federal prison, his influence on the Folk Nation gangs, or sets, remains strong. Hickman demonstrated the subtle signs used by gang members to detect one another. By slyly shifting his belt to the right, he explained the significance of the seemingly harmless motion. Other symbols for the gang include the Star of David and the number “six.”
“All it takes is one movement and they [gang members] know,” said Hickman. “Any affiliated gang member of ‘Folk Nation’ will recognize the movement, and other gangs will recognize it too.”
Guest speaker Hickman works as a crime intelligence analyst for the Florida Department of Corrections specializing in gang activity.
Thomas called him a “walking wealth of information” for his work on gangs and his 25 years in the military.
He ended the talk with the 15-second video, which had gang members had turned over during an interrogation.
The young audience members were given key chains with the slogan “Do the Right Thing” to remind them to stay safe amid peer pressure and moral questions.