The numbers are in – Knox County has over 30 identified gangs, with at least 1,500 members.
Knox County’s District Attorney General is speaking out about gangs in Knox County and what’s being done about them.
This comes as the county grand jury recently returned charges connected with a gang.
WATE 6 On Your Side obtained court paperwork showing a number of charges including murder against Sidarius Jackson, claiming he’s a member of a gang known as the Tree Top Piru Bloods, and claiming he violated the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) Act – a law allowing special charges and legal techniques in prosecuting organized crime.
The presentment claims that Jackson, and others, conspired to sell cocaine in a drug-free zone and used guns in the process.
“Yes, we have gangs in Knoxville,“ says Knox County District Attorney General Charme Allen. “We have over 30 identified gangs in Knoxville and in those gangs we have over 1,500 gang members, we have adult gang members as well as juvenile gang members.“
Allen says in any given year, every single public high school and the majority of public middle schools in Knox County have an identified gang member enrolled as a student.
“Law enforcement trolls social media and people will fly their colors, they will speak certain languages, oftentimes Bloods will use a certain type of alphabet where they don’t use the letter ‘c’ out of a disrespect because of the Crips – the Crips do the same with the letter ‘b’ for Bloods,“ said Allen. “They have colors, they throw gang signs, they often have tattoos and many times gang members are very boastful of being in a gang. They’re proud that they’re in the gang, and they will just confess and tell us.“
The majority of gang members are in the city of Knoxville, which is why Allen prioritized creating the Career Gang Unit.
“We have four full-time attorneys in that unit that do nothing but prosecute career criminals and gang members,“ said Allen. “We have the Bloods, we have the Crips, we have the Vice Lords – our local gangs are just local groups of larger gangs, and they do the exact same thing that gangs across our country do.“
The organized groups profit from criminal activity – predominantly guns and drugs followed by human trafficking.
“The leaders of the gang will have younger kids between the ages of 18-21 actually go buy handguns legally, kids who don’t have a record yet, and they will have the handguns that the gangs are then using.”
Gangs are also known to recruit members at young ages – juveniles, by the law’s standards. They are taught gang-related criminal activity, and worse.
A key to alleviating gang-related issues is gathering information from witnesses about crimes in the community, officials say. But gangs are known to use intimidation tactics to prevent people from coming forward.
“We and law enforcement have to rely on witnesses in the community – we have to have witnesses come forward and help us with the prosecutions and when witnesses do stand up to the gangs, when community members stand up – then we are successful. We can take those gang members and take them off the streets and make them safer for everyone,” said Allen.
When asked how everyday people can help combat the issue of gangs in the community, Allen simply said, “invest in the life of a child.”