Philadelphia public school students are banding together under names like “Baby Gangsters,” “Walnut Hill Girls,” and “The Empire,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. School police reports show that these groups and about 40 others participated in nearly 100 “gang” or suspected gang-related incidents in or around public schools since the 2002-03 school year. The groups engage in hallway brawls and intimidation of classmates, and some are packing weapons. Officials caution that many of the groups are not the traditional, organized gangs that terrorized the city decades ago when as many as 40 students a year died as a result. But activists and experts say problems seem to be worse this year. Said Bilal Qayyum, cochair of Men United for a Better Philadelphia. “If the gangs are not stopped now, and they really start festering – along with what’s going on now with the availability of guns, we’re going to have a bloodbath.”
City police Inspector William Colarulo said police do not see an “organized infrastructure” among the groups in which there are leaders, members with certain roles, and dangerous or deadly initiation rites. Nationwide, many school districts are struggling with increasing gang activity, said Ronald Stephens of the National School Safety Center in California. The national organization Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, made up of 2,000 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors and violence victims, said in a recent report that youth-gang-related homicides rose more than 50 percent from 1999 to 2002. The violence is particularly troublesome in large cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles, but also in smaller communities, such as Durham, N.C., Stephens said.