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ONLY ON 3: Critics say WPD underestimating gang problem

READ MORE: ONLY ON 3: Critics say WPD underestimating gang problem

WILMINGTON, NC (WWAY) -- We told you last night about a fight on 12th Street in Wilmington involving about 50 young people.

Many neighbors told us the fights were directly related to gangs and they happen every day, but a Wilmington Police spokeswoman said the fight was not gang-related.

"We certainly should be aware that Wilmington is among the top of the cities in this state who have gang-related crime, homicide and injuries to our youth," said Community Boys & Girls Club CEO Wayne Lofton.

Lofton says he is on the ground every day working with kids from the community. He says though many folks like to pretend there is not a gang problem in our area, he knows there is.

"I would say to those pundants who feel there isn't a heavy gang infiltration moving in this community that they're misinformed," Lofton said. "All they have to do is ride out amongst the kids in the community and within the inner city areas that are low income and impoverished, and they'll see a heavy presence of gang activity."

Atiba Johnson is a Youth Specialist at the Boys & Girls Club. He says gang members are as young as elementary school age. He says the kids learn by example and are just trying to fit in.

"It's not just high school students," Johnson said. "They're not just acting out. This is not a game. This is real life."

With already one gang-related death in wilmington this year and numerous incidents that are linked to gangs, Johnson says if the community does not address the problem, the violence will continue to rise.

"If the road and the path that we're continuing on right now stays the same, it's going to be a long hot summer with a lot of unnecessary and unfortunate incidents," Johnson said.

Incidents Johnson says prove the community needs to be proactive and not just look the other way.

We wanted to talk with Wilmington Police today about the gang problem, especially among younger children, but the department refused to make any of its gang experts available.

The folks at the Boys & Girls Club say the department's refusal to talk underscores a lack of acknowledgment to how serious the gang problem in Wilmington is.

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