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Looking at Cause of Gang Problem

November 15, 1987

While condemning hardened gang leaders in Santa Ana, we still must ask what draws the city's low-income young people to gangs in the first place. An important part of the complex answer can be found in the response of city officials to the current gang war.

Many of them are bemoaning the fact that the "image" they have been trying to project to corporations and developers has been threatened ("Warring Gangs," Nov. 5). This focus on how Santa Ana looks to powerful outsiders rather than on how it really is for the people who live here is itself a big part of the problem.

If I, as a very fortunate adult, treated with respect by city officials, have felt over the past 10 years that they have sacrificed my needs as a resident because their priority is to project an "image" to the outside, what must be the feelings of Latino teen-agers? As a result of this policy, they live in high-density apartments with no recreational space and attend neglected, overcrowded, insufficiently funded schools.

In the late 1970s Orange County dealt with the gang problem by funding youth organizers. These talented, dedicated college-educated young people from barrio backgrounds formed Buena Gente, a successful youth group where Latino teen-agers could work together to build their own self-respect. They could also mediate gang conflict as soon as it began.

If the City of Santa Ana can spend "millions of dollars" on "shiny glass and steel," it could certainly spend a fraction of that on this and other projects for its own young people. They might then be motivated to resist gangs, and we would all benefit.

LESLIE W. RABINE

Santa Ana

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