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Gang prevention group hosts basketball event for Salt Lake area youth

Posted at 10:07 PM, Sep 24, 2022

WEST VALLEY CITY, Utah — To help tackle the issue of gang violence in the Salt Lake community, local organizations are working to raise awareness about the impacts of these crimes and how to keep kids safe.

“The more that we can educate and raise awareness,” said Andrea Atencio-Valdez with Choose Gang Free, "the more we can attack the problem."

On Saturday, the group used sports to help keep kids off the street.

“I think it’s really important to show that kids aren’t alone, parents aren’t alone — there’s a lot of support here,” said Austin Vega, whose daughter played in the tournament.

Choose Gang Free with local partners hosted an annual 3-on-3 basketball tournament for kids in elementary and middle school. Organizers said over 100 kids took to the court.

“Just shows them that there’s other options, if the kids are bored at home, you know, have nothing to do, there’s lots to do with good kids that are running around that want the same things. They don’t have to follow bad influences,” added Vega.

READ: Police searching for suspects after teen killed in Midvale gang-related shooting

The goal is to help raise awareness about gang violence and give kids and families an active outlet, so they can find direction in their lives.

“We are seeing kids being recruited by gangs younger and younger. Fourth, fifth grade, we’re seeing kids exhibit those at-risk gang behaviors and being pulled in,” said Valdez.

She added that gang violence is a prevalent issue across the Salt Lake Valley.

“We have a real problem here, and a lot of people like to turn a blind eye or not believe that Utah has a gang problem, and that is a problem within itself,” Valdez said. “And it’s unfortunate that we do have juveniles that are losing their lives to gun and gang violence. It’s heartbreaking.”

READ: 2 teens, one 20-year-old killed in gang-related shooting at West Jordan house party

People say it takes all of us to come together to keep our kids safe — "it takes a village" to make an impact.

“It takes each one of us to step in and play a role, and if there’s a kid that wants additional support, we can all take it upon us to be able to help out, help other parents and just got to be there for each other, and I think that will create more of a family support," added Vega.

You can learn more about ways to prevent gang violence here in our community at choosegangfree.com.