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Gangs Documentary to Reveal Darker Side of Paradise

Six local TV and cable stations territory-wide will air the premier of “Gangs in Paradise,” a hard-hitting documentary on the state of gangs in the territory. The program airs Tuesday night at 8 p.m.
“It’s going to educate everyone that there is a problem,” said gang expert LaVelle Campbell. “It will educate parents on the signs and symbols that we see in the community."
The goal of the one-hour-plus film is to establish a dialogue and teach V.I. residents how to identify gangs, their signs and their activities so that gang-associated violence can be met head on.
The documentary is a continuation of gang education, which has been ongoing in the territory. Campbell, who serves as St. Thomas–St. John School Safety Manager, has spearheaded much of the effort on those islands. He lauded the film as a well-timed educational tool, especially with the opening of the new school year in just a few weeks.
Campbell hopes to curtail negative gang behaviors, like fighting, and said the documentary gives parents tools to know how to steer young family members in proper directions, and provides them with resources so they can get the assistance they need.
The interviewees in the film all spoke voluntarily, including two gang members. Four gang members in total were interviewed for the production.
Gang members interviewed for the film said one of young peoples’ biggest drivers toward gang participation is that it gives them something to do.
“They have nothing to do,” said the film’s co-producer Dwight Winston, who filmed 90 percent of the documentary’s content.
“The options here have no appeal – it’s mostly entertainment.”
Play fights and “stacking dances” and causing mischief, like making graffiti, become the after-school activity for many gang members, Winston said. (Gang stacking dances are demonstrated in short videos all over the Internet.)
Most of the documentary was filmed on St. Thomas and St. Croix, Winston said, noting that the level of activity between St. Thomas and St. Croix was about equal, but based on geographical size, he perceived St. Thomas’ as more concentrated.
Winston, who said the same gangs were present throughout the territory, perceived gang loyalty as clearly first to the local gang and then to their “colors.”
“Same Bloods, same Crips,” Winston said. “What we found was that Bloods from St. Thomas wouldn’t really mix with St. Croix, but they would still fight for their colors.”
With nearly two years of close observation under his belt, Winston said that he’s noticed some trends, and gotten more familiar with signs of gang activity.
“I’ve seen progression and am more aware of differences,” Winston said. “There are so many more gang retaliations and violent acts. I know a lot more now. I know [how to identify when] they are a gang member.”
According to Winston, the film is the product of a partnership between Project Safe Neighborhoods and Lambert Media Group, with funds for the project coming largely from Project Safe Neighborhoods grants.
Estimating costs at around $40,000, Winston said that the film has taken over a year to produce. Project Safe Neighborhoods approached the film’s executive producer Lou Lambert in early 2009 with the idea, recalled Winston, during a Gangs 101 workshop held on St. Thomas.
“This is the first time with the exception of elections, that our local broadcasters have united to bring important information to the community in prime time and they should be commended," said Lambert, in a release from Lambert Media Partners.
Public television WTJX Channel 12, WSVI Channel 8, Government Access Channels 10 and 6, TV2/CBS Channel 2 and The V.I. Legislative Channel 17 will show the locally-produced documentary Tuesday at 8 p.m.

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