George County battles gang epidemic - - The News for South Mississippi

George County battles gang epidemic

Authorities say most of the illegal activity takes place on private land. (Photo Source: WLOX News Now) Authorities say most of the illegal activity takes place on private land. (Photo Source: WLOX News Now)
(Photo Source: WLOX News Now) (Photo Source: WLOX News Now)

Nestled in the 484 square miles of rural George County - largely unseen and hidden from the naked eye - is a gang problem fueled by drugs. 

"Who would of ever thought George County had a gang problem?" said Sheriff Keith Havard. 

It's not what you expect.  You don't see gang members hanging on street corners or loitering outside of businesses. Instead, authorities say most of the illegal activity takes place tucked away on different acres of private land.

"We've focused on the Basin community, Agricola, Bexley, Movella, and especially Benndale. We've had a lot of problems over in that area," said Commander Bobby Daffin of the Southeast Narcotics Task Force

Daffin showed WLOX News Now the turf for gangs ranging from the Latin Kings to Simon City Royals. 

"The Vice Lords and the Black Gangster Disciples control all of the large qualities of meth distribution," Daffin said. 

The drugs are moving in much larger quantities than ever before.

"Use to you were dealing with grams, but now its coming in from Mexico and Texas and it's coming in by the pound," Daffin said. 

Havard says a number of factors make the area the perfect breeding ground. 

"We're a farming community, not a lot of industry. Lack of law enforcement has a lot to do with it," Havard said. 

Now that the problem's been identified all hands are on deck to find a solution. The first step: the formation of the Southeast Narcotics task force, a joint force of county and local officers who target the crimes.

In their latest sting, dubbed 'Operation Show Time', the force picked up more than 20 suspected gang members and associates from various affiliations. 

With each of the round ups, another cell fills in the county jail. 

"Within this institution alone, I know that we have 73 who live here on a daily basis," said John Moran, a security analyst at the George County Jail. 

Gang symbols are plastered throughout the jail; those locked up unashamed of their affiliations. 

"We do handle business, everybody do that," said J. Knight, who admits he's a Latin King gang member.

His answers to the tough question reflect the unspoken code of silence but also highlight the fear once they've been sworn in. 

Other inmates reveal a bit more, but under the condition of anonymity. They didn't allow us to show their faces and asked that we disguised their voices.

"This wasn't something I wanted to be - I was born into it. My mama was affiliated," said one inmate, who says he's a member of the Black Gangster Disciples. 

The cyclical nature of being born into the gang culture is one authorities says is a challenge in stopping the epidemic.

"It was just something I always wanted to be, that's who took care of me," said another is who's a part of the Vice Lord gang. 

For those who spoke to WLOX, it's not a life they'd suggest to others.

"I could of had better opportunities with my life instead of being a gangster," said a Black Gangster Disciples member. 

Regardless, members say it won't be an easy task for law enforcement to get rid of gangs.

"It's like cat and mouse they can come for us, but we'll continue to pop up," J Knight said.  

The Mississippi Bureau of Investigation and FBI have partnered with the sheriff in efforts to stop gang activity. Havard says they know it's an uphill battle, but with the recent arrests and outreach he's confident that they can conquer it.

John Moran says they have rehabilitation programs within the jail to try to help inmates re-integrate into their communities once they are released. 

"We have GED programs, work readiness programs so that they don't have to go back to that life," Moran said. 

The jail and sheriff's department have also teamed up to target kids as young as 6th grade to teach them the dangers of drugs and gangs. 

The department says by attacking the issue on both the supply and demand side, they're sure they can move towards eradicating the large scale issue. 

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