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Students Start Saying No to Tatoos, Drugs, Gangs

August 24, 1986|ALICE CRANE | United Press International

Like a cheerleader at a pep rally, Dale Stewart delivers his message loud and clear to students.

"I don't like gangs," he tells two dozen 6th- and 7th-graders attending his class at the Ninth Street School Summer Day Camp. "Never have . . ."

"And never will!" the youngsters respond enthusiastically.

"I've never been a gang member," he tells his students. "Never have . . ."

"And I never will!" the children yell back.

His cheerleading is well-known to hundreds of schoolchildren who have listened to his preaching against joining street gangs. Hired fresh out of Howard University as a gang specialist for the County Youth Gang Services agency three years ago, the 26-year-old native of Columbus, Ohio, said he had to educate himself on street gangs before he took over the classroom program.

No Gangs in Columbus

"We didn't have gangs in Columbus," he said. "We had juvenile delinquents, but not gangs."

At a recent session before the mostly Latino youngsters attending summer classes at the downtown 9th Street School, Stewart talked candidly about two gang-related subjects: tattoos and drugs.

The 12- and 13-year-olds attending heard how dealers cut drugs on the street with household cleanser and other toxic substances, made suggestions about what $25 can buy besides a dose of cocaine and giggled at Stewart's term for PCP: "dummy dust."

Those who had heard his nursery-rhyme-inspired warning about cocaine recited it with him:

"Little Jack Horner sat in a corner without any shoes or clothes. This isn't funny, but he took all his money and put it up his nose."

Each of Stewart's 15 lessons, modeled after a gang alternatives program developed several years ago by the city of Paramount, include a videotape, a drawing of a gang-related situation that the children must interpret and newspaper clippings.

The videotaped shown at the 9th Street School graphically depicted a plastic surgeon removing several small tattoos from a young woman's hand.

"That will cost you between $300 and $2,000," Stewart tells the class. "And that will be in cash. Don't try and go down there with your (credit cards)--it won't make it."

After the video, the children discuss the lesson's drawing, which shows a downcast young man with gang "teardrop" tattoos on his face leaving a personnel office as a horror-stricken secretary stares after him.

Gang Identification

"If you wear tattoos people look at you as being in a gang," Stewart tells the class. "And you're not, but of course, if you do the crime . . . "

"You pay the time!" the class responds.

"I know someone who has tattoos," said Marcelo Zuniga, 12, after class. "It's a little heart right here," he says, pointing to his forearm.

"I thought it was just a little picture until (Stewart) told us."

Another student, Gilbert Valle, said he especially remembers Stewart's presentation on the effect of gangs on family life. A drawing depicts a neighborhood drive-by shooting.

"I remember that one," Valle said. "It's the one where the little girl gets killed."

One of the girls listening to Stewart read a newspaper clipping about some south Los Angeles residents demonstrating their concern about the drug problem by carrying a coffin through their neighborhood tells him, "Drugs and coffins go together like peanut butter and jelly."

"Hey, that's good," Stewart said. "I'll have to use that one."

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