FORT WORTH—North Texas gangs are now recruiting children as young as 11, and even fourth- and fifth-graders are imitating their habits, police say.
Elementary schools students are wearing gang clothing, using gang signs and intimidating their classmates, said officer C.C. Meadows, a member of the Fort Worth police gang unit. Dallas police said it’s common to find 13-year-olds in their files on active gang members.
Officials blame the trend on older gang members encouraging youths to commit crimes because they might face lesser penalties and on the media for glamorizing gang life.
J.B. Sanchez, a 26-year-old who describes himself as an inactive member of a Fort Worth gang, said he didn’t dream of picking up a gun when he was 11 or 12.
“The guys would tell me, ‘No way, you’re too young,’“ he said. “They set an age limit. Today, there’s no age limit.”
Young gang members have been charged with everything from murder to robbery to vandalism, said Sheila Wynn, juvenile division chief of the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. They usually commit crimes with older gang members, and they never seem to fully understand the consequences, Wynn said.