Editor’s note: For the safety of the students mentioned in this article, names and identities will not be released.
In the past year, TJC students have been connected to a homicide, armed robbery and multiple fights that could be a result of increasing gang activity on campus.
Two TJC students from Houston are still under investigation as suspects in a homicide that occurred on Oct. 14 at Varsity Place Apartments, located off of Varsity Drive.
On Jan. 13, four men, three of whom were TJC students, were arrested for involvement in an armed robbery at the Food Fast convenience store at 4725 Troup Highway. Andrew Aybar, 22, was charged with aggravated robbery and engaging in organized criminal activity, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. Cordero Beck, 20, was sentenced to 30 years in prison. Demaria Travar Woods, 20, was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Justin Johnson, 21, was sentenced to 30 years in prison.
Assistant District Attorney Jason Parrish argued that the four men were part of a gang and acted together.
This semester alone, there have been reports of graffiti on campus, gunshots, and large fights breaking out that required the intervention of Campus Safety officers and the Tyler Police Department.
Campus Safety Chief Randy Melton refused to comment on safety of the campus or the following incidents.
“The administration is very concerned about the gangs, and we are working on it,” TJC Provost Homer “Butch” Hayes said. “We monitor what is going on and it takes time to take action. I want to assure everyone that we take this very seriously, and we know about it, and it’s an issue.”
A fight was reported in front of Rogers Student Center on Oct. 19. The altercation was between two girls and was reported to have started over money. Later that evening, multiple TJC students reported hearing gunshots between Holley and Vaughn Halls.
The next day, there was another fight in front of Rogers Student Center. There were approximately 50 students involved, according to campus safety incident reports. The people in the fight moved to the parking lot when Campus Safety arrived.
Director of Student Life and Involvement Vincent Nguyen reported that he saw students moving objects in the trunk of a vehicle, and reported sounds of “metal banging together.” When Campus Safety officers questioned the students, they refused to allow permission to search the trunk. The student stated officers would have to get a search warrant. There is no indication that Campus Safety pursued a warrant.
Another report showed a TJC student told Campus Safety that he saw a gun in the vehicle glove compartment of another TJC student at The Oaks Apartments on East Houston Street on Sept. 28.
Multiple TJC students said that some of the violence could be attributed to gang activity.
The most common gangs in Tyler are the Bloods, Crips, East Side Locos and the Aryan Brotherhood. Each gang has a sign and color. The Bloods are red. The Crips are blue and the Locos are brown.
Hayes said they are seeing more and more results of crime due to an increase in enrollment. He said there are more people now in one place at one time and TJC may need to hire help.
Detective Chris Miller, youth crimes investigator and gang intelligence officer for the City of Tyler, said a gang is an organization that has three or more persons with a common leadership symbol.
Three Crips, who are also TJC students, said that Crips claim most of the Tyler area as their territory.
“One [gang] that I know for sure is the Aryan brotherhood. It’s a white supremacy gang,” a TJC sophomore said. “There are Crips and Bloods… Some from TJC, Texas College and high schools.”
Miller said that once they feel they have the violence contained, a new semester begins.
“Every semester brings a new batch,” Miller said. “I don’t think they are particularly picking TJC. Some are really trying to get an education. On the other side, some gang members could possibly be getting grants and financial aid in order to have a paid vacation.”
Miller said this generation’s media often portrays the bad guy as the good guy and vice versa, making it more fashionable to be a part of a gang. Miller also said it is a difficult process to be initiated into a gang.
“A lot of organizations say kids fall into this. They have to do time and crimes to purposefully get in. It usually starts in junior high and by the time they get to TJC, they have mastered it,” Miller said. “Gang members have to work at it. They are very selective. You have to prove yourself by committing crimes. The most shocking [crimes] give you more cred.”
TJC students who are also members of local gangs said that most of the violence is brought in by gangs from larger, surrounding cities, where activity is more prominent.
“It’s much worse in bigger cities,” one TJC student and Crip said. “We have a lot more students this semester, so there are some more Bloods and Crips.”
They said they try to keep the fights off campus, but sometimes, if they feel disrespected, it’s necessary.
“The only thing we fight over is respect. We are just like everyone else,” one TJC student and Crip member said. “We aren’t bad people. We are trying to get an education like everyone else.”
Miller said that many incidents go unreported because of fear.
“If you see a crime, you need to report it. If it’s wrong, you need to say something about it,” he said.
Miller, along with other detectives feel frustrated that it is a constant battle.
“It is irritating. There is a sense of loyalty to the community and to have people come into our community… these predators come in… It irritates us,” Miller said.
Miller said that while some gang members might want to better themselves, some are content in the position they are in.
“Most people think gangs are so loyal and like family. That is a myth. They will turn on each other in a heartbeat,” Miller said. “They steal from each other. They beat each other up. They beat each other up in the initiation process alone.”