Community-Based Gang Intervention Model

After almost a year of ongoing meetings, writing, researching, debating, and fine-tuning, the Community Engagement Advisory Committee (CEAC) -- made up of gang intervention specialists, peace advocates, community leaders, and researchers -- of LA City's Ad Hoc Committee on Gang Violence & Youth Development, finished its ground-breaking Community-based Gang Intervention Model.

On February 13, the Ad Hoc committee, headed by City Councilman Tony Cardenas, presented this model for approval of the 15-member LA City Council. In an historic vote, the council voted unanimously to approve this model. This is a major victory, however, more must be done to implement such a model across LA's vast poor and working class communities where most gangs are located.

Although gang violence has gone down tremendously since the heyday of the 1980s and 1990s (one fact I came across claims that around 10,000 young people were killed in the LA area by gangs from 1980-2000), LA is still known as the "Gang Capital of the World." Police say there are 700 gangs and 40,000 gang members in LA, not counting the larger LA County area with several hundred more gangs and thousands more gang youth.

It's a real problems deserving of real and serious attention. For example, communities in East LA and South Central LA (now called South LA) have murder rates among African Americans and Latinos as high or higher than the murder rates in South Africa or El Salvador (both these countries have the world's highest murder rates).

However, for several decades, police suppression of gangs has been the main response from the city. These include gang injunctions where whole neighborhoods are put "under arrest" (people have strict curfews and can't interract, even if they'r related, can't have cell phones, baseball bats, and such). They include "three strikes and you're out" where convicted felons can be given 25-to-life prison sentences even for non-violent crimes. They include tearing down of whole housing projects, such as East LA's Aliso Village, which at one time was the largest housing projects west of the Mississippi. They include trying 14 years old as adults, giving kids 50 years and longer sentences (one 14-year-old received a death sentence for an incident in which no one was hurt).

This has only served to squeeze poor communities of color, forcing whole families to move into surrounding areas as well as across the country -- and taking the LA gangs and lifestyle everywhere. Today the biggest gang problem in the US involves LA-based gang structures like Sur Trece, 18th Street, Crips, Bloods, and MS-13, among others.

And we've created the largest prison system in the world, with 175,000 prisoners in close to 35 prisons, in California (thirty years ago the state had 15,000 prisoners in around 15 prisons).

Also US immigration authorities have been targeting immigrant gang youth, particularly after the LA Rebellion of 1992, but also since 1996 when convicted undocumented immigrants could be automatically deported. Since 1996, some 700,000 convicted undocumented felons have been deported, most of them to Mexico and Central America. Today LA-based gangs have become active in Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras (and recruiting among the poor and war-traumatized youth of those countries), but also Cambodia and Armenia.

CEAC's solutions are to stop this squeezing of our communuities ("concidently" opening up large inner-city areas to high-end development and gentrification) and to provide real resources of jobs, education, skills training, tattoo removal, and re-entry programs for prisoners/juvenile offenders. We want to make gang intervention a well-funed alternative to suppression, with teams of trained gang intervention workers able to move quickly among the gang hot spots. We also have included another prong to provide adequate wrap-around services to youth who need it.

In addition, the CEAC included important aspects of arts & culture (for creative, imaginative and culturally-engaged lives), faith-based/spiritual components, and more to help establish whole and healthy communities that can nurture whole and healthy people, particulary among our youth.

We believe gang intervention must be community-based, driven and led by community, not the police or politicians. Of course, the police, schools, city officials, city departments, and such should be integral to any urban peace plan. We welcome all members of the community to take positive and active steps to curtail the violence that is destroying families and communities.


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