Two weeks before the fatal shooting of a suburban teenager in what appears to be a gang-related fight, Nashville police gave gang awareness training to Williamson County, Tn., school faculty. The Tennessean reports that the schools’ request for the training suggests a willingness to acknowledge, although not yet publicly, what they and local law enforcement had long been reluctant to admit: Gangs exist in suburbia. “Gangs have always been here, probably much longer than the Police Department was aware or recognized,” said Sgt. Charles Warner, a Franklin, Tn., police detective. “We’ve started to see a slow increase. By no means is there an epidemic.”
Several smaller communities outside of Nashville have seen an increase in gang presence and gang-related crime. Local police departments attribute gangs’ migration to growth – and to Nashville’s aggressive police crackdown on street gangs, which pushes criminal activity to outlying cities. “You have suburban communities surrounding a metro area, and gang activity does spill over sometimes,” said John Moore of the Florida-based National Youth Gang Center. “The gangs in the Nashville area are much more typical as a whole to the rest of the United States, but unlike places such as Chicago.” They rarely deal drugs; petty thefts and gang-on-gang violence are traits of the suburban gang. Already about 10 to 15 percent of youth violence in Tennessee has gang ties, Moore said. “No city wants to admit that they have a gang problem, but you can’t deal with it until you acknowledge it,” he said.