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Community leaders react to news of federal charges targeting organized gangs

Longtime peace activists say they'll continue to work on early intervention efforts to put young people on a better path.

MINNEAPOLIS — When he learned Wednesday that federal prosecutors had charged more than 40 people for their involvement with organized gangs across Minneapolis, longtime Twin Cities community leader Tyrone Terrill felt mixed emotions.

"In many ways, I'm saddened," Terrill said, "but at the same time, it's going to also keep the community safer if the allegations against these young men are true."

As president of the African American Leadership Council, Terrill mostly works with kids between the ages of 12 and 17, focusing on early intervention efforts to keep them on a healthy path to adulthood. 

The charges that prosecutors laid out Wednesday, however, demonstrate what can go ultimately wrong when young people join organized gangs and grow into adults. According to court documents, the Bloods in South Minneapolis specifically recruited so-called "young gangsters" or "young gangster Bloods" to "fight, shoot, or make money to gain respect and increase their position in the gang."

Although prosecutors identified three main gangs in Minneapolis as a part of their criminal charges on Wednesday, they said there are many subgroups that operate within those structures.

"In the work, we started doing in 1991, '92, or '93, there were probably nine organized gang groups, if you will, in the Twin Cities. There's probably 175 now," Terrill said. "It makes the work more difficult, but we have to still continue it. We have to continue the fight, because if we don't, we're going to have 45 more young men, young fathers, young brothers, in some cases maybe even young women, who are going to be in prison. How can we intervene, early on?"

Terrill said he expects Wednesday's announcement may deter some from further criminal activity in the Twin Cities.

"But also, sometimes, it's short-term -- that when you're in that life, you're not surprised by it," Terrill said. "So, it will deter some. But it won't deter all."

KG Wilson, another longtime Twin Cities peace activist, said the charges announced Wednesday "sends a message" to others who may be swayed by organized crime.

"These individuals that were arrested today, they had a choice. They had a choice to either choose the negativity, the criminal activity in the streets, or they had a choice for people like myself who have been doing positive mentoring," Wilson said. "Sometimes kids see this type of thing going on in their community, and they feel like maybe, 'okay, I can be a part of this'. Or sometimes they may be bullied into this kind of activity. But now they get to see the outcome of it -- and it's not pretty."

Wilson's granddaughter, Aniya, was killed two years ago this month -- but police have not yet made an arrest in that case.

"In about 15 days, we'll be coming up on two years for my granddaughter being shot at 36th and Penn Avenue, by somebody who refused to turn themselves in, who was taught negative information not to turn yourself in," Wilson said. "These 45 individuals, they saw this in their community and they thought this was the right way to go. And now they're sitting in jail."

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