Gangs 'using social media to expand'

Gangs 'using social media to expand'
Mr Kim, who was in a gang for 10 years and is now a pottery artist, sharing his experiences with teens at Camp Ace, aimed at youngsters associated with gangs.
PHOTO: The Straits Times

Gangsters are now more open about their activities on social media, with some even tapping Facebook and Instagram to recruit young members.

This is because young people are naturally curious about the "cool" photos that their friends post online and social media allows them to strike up conversations easily, said former gangster Kim Whye Kee, 37.

"Also, there's no hierarchy anymore in gangs today... Anyone can join the gang and be a headman, as long as he gets a few men under him," said Mr Kim, who was in a gang for 10 years and is now a potter.

But having an online presence also makes it easier for them to get caught, said another former gang member Azmi Abdul Rahman, 43. "Is it worth it?" he asked 35 teens yesterday at the National Police Cadet Corps Campsite in Pulau Ubin.

The duo were guest speakers at the eighth Camp Ace, aimed at gang-linked youngsters. The two- day camp, which ended yesterday, was organised by the Secret Societies Branch of the police's Criminal Investigation Department.

Ace stands for All Can Escape - that is, all young people can escape crime and negative influences. This year's participants were aged 13 to 18 and from the Streetwise Programme, which focuses on structured intervention initiatives such as counselling to help at-risk youth stay away from gangs.

Mr Azmi said the sense of pride that one gets from joining a gang is temporary. He recounted how he was once chased down Orchard Road by rival gangsters armed with knives. It was just a few months after he had joined a gang at age 20.

"As I was running away from them, I had only one thought. It was not pride. It was about my mother," said Mr Azmi, now a delivery driver.

Participants at the camp were asked questions such as: Why do I want to join a gang? For John (not his real name), it was a means to prove himself. He joined a gang at 15 and skipped classes to peddle drugs. Six months later, he quit the gang after realising his actions affected his family negatively.

On what he would tell those looking to join gangs, John, now 16, said: "Do you want to spend time beating someone up? Or spend the time with a loved one and create memories you can cherish forever?"

This article was first published on March 11, 2016.
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