Gang members past and present broke bread with the Salt Lake City police chief and community leaders Friday night to call attention to gang- and drug-related problems in the community.
The upshot, speakers said, is that gangs aren't all bad, although drugs have pushed some gangs into criminal activity."We had a commitment in our club not to use drugs," said Fabian Martinez, a former gang member who is now studying business and accounting at a Salt Lake college. "I feel that one of the main problems is that gangs today use drugs and that's what causes them to be more violent than in the past."
The dinner was hosted by the "Diamond Street" gang and Carlos Jimenez, coordinator of the drug and alcohol program at the Institute of Human Resource Development. The guest list included Salt Lake City Police Chief Mike Chabries and representatives from the Legislature and governor's office.
One youth, a member of the Diamond Street gang who identified himself only as Anthony, said he believes the public and media have a distorted view of the gang problem in Salt Lake City.
"We are not all murderers or drug users," he said.
He admitted, however, that he was an alcoholic, but he said he received treatment and no longer uses alcohol or drugs. He suggested that students be exposed to drug awareness programs at a very young age and they be given the facts rather than "scare tactics." He said youths should be told of the devastating effect drugs have not only on the user but on his family as well.
"If you don't care about yourself, at least think about those who love you," he said.
He suggested appointment of a mediator - someone trusted by both gangs and the police. He also suggested businesses become more involved in helping employ out-of-work teenagers.
Chabries said he decided to call attention to the gang problem a year ago because it poses a serious threat to public safety. Still, he acknowledged that gangs are not just a law enforcement problem. Community youth programs to help steer kids away from gangs are also a big part of the solution.