WINSTON-SALEM — While some in Richmond County refuse to acknowledge a local gang problem, the nation’s highest law enforcement officer did so at a statewide gang conference.
U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions suggested Thursday that sanctuary cities contribute to problems with drugs and violent gangs, adding that cracking down on illegal immigrants is his priority.
Sessions said cities that shield people in the U.S. illegally are contributing to problems caused by violent gangs like MS-13.
Sessions cited Hamlet, which cancelled its July Fourth celebrations last month because of fears of gang violence. He says the nation won’t be held hostage by gangs, and that the federal government would work with state and local law enforcement to eradicate them.
Sessions has previously tied illegal immigration to a broader lawlessness that allows gangs to smuggle guns, drugs and humans.
According to Hamlet Detective Capt. Randy Dover, most of the area gang members are affiliated with the Bloods, Crips or Folk Nation.
Last summer, Dover was one of the first officers in Richmond County to suggest legitimate gang activity in Richmond County, following a rash of shootings and other violent crimes.
Dover attended the conference, along with Hamlet Chief Scott Waters and officer Chris Lampley and Bryan Ingram and Jeff Tuttle from the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office.
Richmond County Sheriff James E. Clemmons Jr. in December announced the formation of a gang task force, made up of the Richmond County Sheriff’s Office, Rockingham and Hamlet police departments, the North Carolina State Bureau of Investigation, the N.C. Department of Public Safety Division of Adult Correction and Juvenile Justice, Richmond County Schools and the system’s Special Police, District Attorney Reese Saunders’ office and the office of Ripley Rand, U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of North Carolina.
“It’s unfortunate that we have to look into these types of activities,” Clemmons said, “but that’s the reality.”
One main component to detect gangs is that there has to be organization, and Clemmons said the tagging of buildings and wearing of gang colors is evidence of that.
He added that these aren’t just “wannabes or pretenders,” several individuals have been identified as gang members.
During a public workshop in June 2016, Brian Taylor said there were between 40 and 50 validated gang members in the county at any given time.
“People think that gangs are an urban problem,” Taylor said during the workshop. “They are an everywhere problem. It’s here. It’s in our community.”
Investigators said there had been 11 gang-related incidents in the county between April 1 and Dec. 9 of 2016.
More recently, Dover links the shooting of Tierell Martin and the arrests of three teens on drug and weapons charges to gang activity.
The sheriff added that its going to take more than just the justice community to tackle the problem, urging parents, teachers, pastors and other community members to step up and take a role.
“It’s going to involve all of us in Richmond County,” he said.