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Take the Offensive Against Gang Violence : Mayor's race: Our leaders have ceded much of the city to outlaws. Use new and existing laws to crack down on crime.

The Times invited all the city's mayoral candidates to describe their ideas for Los Angeles. Their articles will run on this page in the days to come. Today, Tom Houston and Adam Bregman

April 02, 1993|TOM HOUSTON | Tom Houston is the former deputy mayor of Los Angeles.

Justice Edwin Torres of the New York State Supreme Court recently warned of the danger of a city simply accepting crime and gang violence. "A society that loses it sense of outrage is doomed to extinction . . . . The slaughter of the innocent marches on unabated: subway riders, cab drivers, babies; in Laundromats, at cash machines, on elevators and in hallways." Although the justice's comments were addressed to crime in New York, they are prophetic for Los Angeles, 1993.

Our political leaders appear to have gone numb in the face of increasing gang violence. They appear lost in a narcoleptic state of indifference and hopelessness. Los Angeles residents must awaken their leaders, insist that they shake off their numbness and demand an aggressive counterattack against the spread of gangs.

We simply cannot continue to cede large areas of the city to gangs at night; we cannot tolerate 800 gang murders a year (many of them of our children); we cannot stand by while 150,000 gang members spread out throughout our city, and we cannot continue to allow our residents to be terrorized by gang violence on a daily basis. The growing presence of gangs in our communities is like a cancer that must be exorcised, and exorcised quickly, before it destroys our city. And--make no mistake--no business is going to relocate and no new jobs are going to be created in Los Angeles' inner city until it's clear that something dramatic is being done to fight crime, gangs and guns.

There are actions that can be taken to stop gang violence. Of course, we need more police, increased community involvement and greater coordination between local and federal agencies fighting gangs. But we also need to utilize legal mechanisms to disarm and incarcerate gang members that do not require the testimony of witnesses who can be intimidated and murdered by gangs.

First, we need a state law that requires a mandatory six-month prison term for anyone arrested in Los Angeles with an "unlicensed" firearm. Law-abiding citizens register their handguns. Gang members, almost all of whom are now armed, do not. Such a law would eliminate the need for witnesses to crimes, since the only testimony required as to the presence of an unlicensed gun would be that of the arresting officer.

Second, we should utilize existing deportation procedures--which again do not require lay witnesses--to get known gang members who are also illegal aliens out of the country. Working together, our police and the Immigration and Naturalization Service should carefully target and arrest such individuals. Illegal-alien gang members arrested by the INS who are wanted for violent crimes would be prosecuted for such crimes (provided witnesses could be fully protected). All others would be subjected to deportation hearings where the sole issue would be whether they are in this country legally.

Since many of those who would be targeted under this program are also wanted for serious crimes at home, most of those deported will end up in prisons in El Salvador, Mexico or various Asian countries.

Of course, the Border Patrol and the Coast Guard will have to be beefed up to ensure that deported gang members who avoid incarceration at home cannot make their way back to Los Angeles.

Third, to rid public housing projects of gangs, we should make anyone who is convicted of a gang-related offense, or of two crimes involving drugs or violence, ineligible for public housing. We cannot continue to subject the thousands of hard-working and honest residents to neighbors who are gang members, drug dealers or violent criminals.

As mayor, I would make sure that the city shakes off its numbness and begins aggressively to reclaim its streets and neighborhoods from violent gangs.

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