Coast gangs expert says if ignored problem will get worse

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - An expert on gang violence said South Mississippi needs to wake up to the problem of youth violence before the situation spirals out of control. WLOX talked to Dr. Tom Payne, an associate professor of Criminal Justice at the University of Southern Mississippi, about the recent suspected gang activity in the area.

This week Coast law enforcement made numerous arrests for crimes that authorities said are gang related.  Jackson County deputies charged 12 people, all under the age of 20, in connection with a fight in a parking lot on Lemoyne Boulevard.

Also this week, four teenagers who are suspected of being members of the Simon City Royals gang were arrested for allegedly beating a 16-year-old unconscious.

Gangs expert Dr. Tom Payne said he was part of a recently completed study on the state of youth violence on the Coast.

"A lot of people don't have a perception that there is a youth violence problem and the reality that the problem is limited here on the Coast," said Dr. Payne. "I think the biggest point that we can make is we have an opportunity now early on to prevent, intervene, incapacitate and then redeem. Or else we're going to suffer the consequences and we're going to see a lot more actions. We're just in the infancy of it here. It's just now beginning for us. If we don't do something now then it's just going to be worse and we're going to be a community in fear."

Dr. Payne said most young people join gangs for a sense of belonging, to make money or both. He said the Coast needs more mentoring programs that can reach at-risk youth before they decide to join gangs.

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