Schools watch for pink

New color emerges in battle against gangs
By Lori Stuenkel

Gilroy – School officials who watch for students displaying gang colors say that pink could be the new red and blue.

In the battle against gang violence in schools, officials must stay on top of trends in gang color displays, as new ones can emerge as quickly as old trends are identified. The increasing prevalence of students sporting pink as relating to gangs is actually part of a trend spotted nation-wide.

No district policy exists that bans gang colors – traditionally blue and red – outright, but schools can prohibit certain students from donning the colors if their behavior is a warning sign, as well. Preventing blatant displays of gang associations protects student safety, according to school officials.

“Students can’t be mistaken for being in a gang” if they are not wearing the colors, said Roger Cornia, school safety officer with Gilroy Unified School District. “Sometimes people will assume students are in a gang if they’re wearing a color.”

That assumption can also be made about a student who associates with others wearing gang colors.

“It may or may not be true, but as soon as other students see them and put that label on them, it puts them in danger,” Cornia said.

Gilroy students are free to wear red or blue unless they exhibit certain behaviors.

“It takes threatening behavior on their part of another student, it takes us visually seeing them flash gang-related signs, we see gang-related terms written on binder papers or school material, we’ll see them express terms that are gang-related,” said Sal Tomasello, principal of Ascencion Solorsano Middle School.

The district and Gilroy Police Department created a document alerting teachers and other school employees of behavior, marks, and clothing to watch for.

Some items are banned outright, such as certain athletic jerseys and baseball caps, but 90 percent of the time, officials look for behavior in students wearing clothing that could signify gang affiliation. For example, some athletic team clothing could be gang-related, or the student could simply be a fan. A group of high school boys walking around in blue shirts could be a group to watch, or they could be showing their school spirit.

And then there’s pink. More girls throughout the district are wearing the color, Cornia said, and schools can choose to ban it like they do blue and red out of concerns it denotes gang ties.

“We don’t ban all girls wearing pink,” Cornia said. “There has to be a behavior along with it.”

When a new group such as this one claims a color, schools must watch for a name or symbol to go along with it, notes passed in class discussing gang-like activity, or threats against students being made by the group, he said.

One Gilroy High School freshman said her group of friends makes plans to wear certain colors on certain days, including pink, but that it is in no way affiliated with gangs. Some girls who wear one pink glove at a time are sent to the discipline office and told not to wear them again.

“I don’t want them to ban pink all together because I have girlfriends who wear pink gloves and they wouldn’t like it,” said Christine Dudek.

She supports the school policy prohibiting certain students from wearing gang colors.

“I like how they are aware of certain kids,” Dudek said.

Middle school students in both Indiana and Oklahoma last year staged protests after their schools flagged the color as a potential problem.

Trends in displaying colors and affiliations are dynamic as students try to skirt the dress code. In the past few years at South Valley, students took to wearing hanging brown belts when the red and blue ones were no longer accepted, or sagging their pants to reveal red or blue underwear. At Solorsano recently, a student was wearing an innocent-looking shirt that incorporated the word “Sur,” for the Sureño gang, in such a way that it would only be seen from a certain angle, Tomasello said.

He said gang colors at Solorsano are less of a problem than at South Valley, where Tomasello was an assistant principal until this school year.

“Because we’re so isolated out here, I really feel our kids are separated from what’s going on at other schools in the community,” he said.

Students at Solorsano – which is bordered by Uvas Creek in an undeveloped area of West Gilroy – are driven or bused there, Tomasello said, while most South Valley students walk through East Gilroy neighborhoods and the downtown area to reach the IOOF Avenue campus, passing potential gang influences such as graffiti along the way. South Valley Principal Paul De Ayora did not return calls for comment made over the past week.

“There’s a lot more visible signs at that school compared to here,” Tomasello said. “We have less threat situations, less intimidation, less fights.”

That’s not to say Solorsano is immune. Although no gang-related fights have taken place at the school this year, some students are on contracts. As students mature and interact in the community, Tomasello said he anticipates gangs and colors will become more prevalent.

“We have to continue to be vigilant as a staff, and to talk about it,” Tomasello said. “We inform parents, who aren’t aware of a lot of the gang signs and issues that we see at school. We spend a lot of time trying to educate students.”

Protecting students by minimizing gang colors has the potential to protect them outside of school, as well. In Sacramento, prosecutors who specialize in gang cases are warning of attacks in which gang members target people who merely look like they belong to a rival gang, according to the Sacramento Bee.

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