Increased gang awareness stressed
April 3, 2012
BY Sheena DeLazio (Staff writer)
HAZLETON – Two local legislators said Monday the gang-related attack on a 13-year-old girl at a city playground is the most recent example of why more needs to be done to deter gang activity in the community.
New legislation is in the works and a community forum is planned to help educate citizens.
U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta and state Sen. John Yudichak announced Monday a forum to be held in May at which the community can come together to wage a war on gang activity.
“This horrifying attack strengthens the need (to address gang activity),” Yudichak, D-Plymouth Township, said during a press conference at the Hazleton Area High School.
“We cannot and will not ignore gang violence that has been perpetuated in our community.”
Yudichak and Barletta’s press conference Monday came as an update to the community on Operation Gang Up, a local, bipartisan initiative to combat gang activity in Northeastern Pennsylvania.
Yudichak and Barletta spoke of the March 15 attack on a 13-year-old Hazleton Elementary/Middle School student as the most recent reason the community needs to act on gang violence.
|The girl was forced into a vehicle near Ninth Street and Manhattan Court, and was able to escape from the vehicle near the Altmiller Playground, where police say she was attacked in a juvenile gang-related incident. The beating stopped, Yudichak said Monday, when citizen heroes intervened.
“The first step is to admit we have a gang problem,” Barletta, R-Hazleton, said.
“Then, we can make NEPA the place we want it to be … where we can live without fear of gang activity.”
The community forum to be held on May 3 at Luzerne County Community College, Barletta said, is a chance for the community to learn how they can be a part of the imitative to stop gang activity.
That can be accomplished mostly, Barletta said, by preventing children from joining gangs by reaching out to parents, school officials and community leaders.
Barletta and Yudichak said they are working with other lawmakers to put together a package to present to specific committees in an effort to add to current laws about gang violence.
Hazleton Area Acting Superintendent Francis Antonelli said Monday he is thankful for the efforts of law enforcement and legislators for their work in deterring gang activity, and he is pursing grant money to help.
Antonelli said he is seeking grant money to bring gang awareness training to school students, and working in conjunction with Serento Gardens, a Hazleton-based substance-abuse treatment and education center, to work on a drug education program.
There are also efforts, Antonelli said, to work with the state police to increase their presences on Hazleton Area campuses.
“Gang members never stop working,” Barletta said. “It’s time for the community to get involved.”
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