A rash of violent incidents in the Los Angeles area last weekend has fed a growing unease that decent people hereabouts are losing ground to gangs.
-- Friday night, rival gangs exchanged gunfire on a residential street in La Puente. One gang member was slain, and a stray bullet killed June Guin, 60, in her nearby home. She had retired recently and was planning to move away because of the neighborhood's growing gang problem.
-- Early Saturday, gang members fired into traffic from a Hollywood apartment building. Two people were hit; police are having a hard time coming up with suspects because witnesses fear to speak.
-- Early Sunday, two men were mowed down by automatic weapons fire in a public park near the Santa Ana Civic Center. Police say the killings were gang-related.
Read enough news like that and you, too, might start making preparations to get out of town, as June Guin and her husband had planned to do. But willingness to flee implies we are ready to surrender entire neighborhoods to thugs. That is unacceptable. Instead, law-abiding people must reclaim the streets.
It won't be quick or easy. Even putting more police officers on the street only helps to stem violence, not solve the underlying social problems. Going the other way, giving every gang member a job, is unlikely in today's recession.
But things aren't hopeless. Local grass-roots groups with track records in reducing gang violence have come up with a new proposal for lessening the toll that gangs take on their neighborhoods.
Churches and community organizations affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation have begun what is called the Hope in Youth Campaign, which they believe could help divert from gangs up to 80% of the youths drawn to the criminal groups. (The community organizations go by the acronyms UNO, SCOC, EVO and VOICE.) A decade ago, UNO and SCOC found an innovative way to deal with the other 20% of those in the gangs--the incorrigibles who cause most of the violence. They prodded the city and county of Los Angeles to fund a proposal that became the Community Youth Gang Services Project. To this day, the project remains an effective crisis intervention network, using mature former gang members to stop violence before it happens.
But in dealing with the symptom, the gang services project does not confront the underlying problem. That's what Hope in Youth is designed to do. It would put teams of gang experts, social workers and teachers in gang-infested areas to keep young "wanna-bes" out of the groups through help in school and the family and, in some cases, finding them jobs.
Leaders of the Industrial Areas Foundation estimate the campaign will cost $15 million the first year; funds will be sought from federal, state and local governments, corporations, churches and foundations.
Based on the track records that UNO, SCOC and their sister organizations have, the plan is worth a serious look.
At least it tries to do something about the gang problem besides run from it.