LIFE WITHOUT GANGS : L.A. BRIDGES PROGRAM TARGETS AT-RISK YOUTHS BY STRENGTHENING FAMILY,.
FROM Stephanie Kuhen to Daniel Maldenado to Corrie Williams, the toll that gang violence is taking on children is staggering.
A study that appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed an unrelenting increase in gang-related murders of minors in Los Angeles County.
community and educational supports
According to the LAPD Citywide Gang Crime Summary, there are approximately 406 gangs in the city, with about 62,300 members. Roughly 10 percent of the total number of crimes and 40 percent of murders committed in Los Angeles can be traced to gangs.
This issue of violent juvenile crime is of national concern. A poll commissioned by the American Federation of Teachers found that fears about violence and the lack of safety were greater than concern about the quality of education. The period of the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s shows a 50 percent increase in the number of juveniles arrested for violent offenses.
This sad saga does not end there. Young people are now increasingly likely to be the perpetrators of violent crime and even more likely to be the victims of violent crime. For every category of violent crime, young people between the ages of 12 and 18 are more likely to be victims than any other age group.
Somehow, this data does not do justice to the pathos that comes from and contributes to gang violence.
No longer can we tolerate impersonal statistics - any more than we can put up with unimaginative solutions - the effects of gang violence are real: real names, real children and real families, real doctors and nurses, real paramedics and police officers.
Scarcely one month ago, we awoke to the news that two young children, Ezekiel and Shantel Smith, were struck by gang bullets while playing at their home. It was Presidents Day, a holiday that should have afforded a rare moment of peace in Los Angeles, but we were again reminded that violence, especially gang violence, does not take heed of holidays.
For those who instigate these crimes, it was just another day, another shooting, another repulsive act in a city that has more than its share of pain.
As residents of an otherwise great city, we are all too aware of the presence and impact of gangs on our communities. Though our desire to find solutions to this problem is severely tempered by its magnitude, no one can deny that something must be done to stem the tide of gang violence.
We must take real and active steps to combat the near-epidemic of violence against innocent victims. We must create safer environments for our communities, especially for our children. Indeed, we have a major fight on our hands and we must face it strategically, comprehensively, creatively and convincingly.
For months now, city leaders have been bombarded by the question, ``What are you going to do about gangs?''
L.A. Bridges is our answer - a novel, comprehensive, citywide anti-gang program. L.A. Bridges is a call to city leaders, law enforcement agencies, schools, social services agencies and community-based organizations to get their act together by really working together.
L.A. Bridges offers a fresh approach to youth-at-risk and a new start for the city's youth advocacy programs. Designed by the Ad Hoc Committee on Gangs and Gang Violence, it is intended to unite organizations, individuals and resources in a collaboration that will aggressively target those young people most susceptible to the influence of gangs: middle school children between the ages of 10-14 years in 26 middle schools from the Valley to the harbor. It should be noted that this approach assumes a much higher level of accountability for public dollars by all parties involved.
L.A. Bridges has three essential components: actualizing youth achievement, strengthening family foundations and promoting community action. In focusing on these areas, L.A. Bridges will be functioning in the most critical spheres in the life of any child - school, family and community.
The first component will be met through the formation of school-based programs, such as mentoring, educational support and recreational activities.
Second, families will be strengthened through counseling, child care, parental care, parental support and accountability.
Finally, communities will be given the opportunity to voice their concerns and assist in the operation of this program through the establishment of Community Oversight Councils.
By bringing all who have a stake in the lives and futures of children to one table, working toward a common goal, we will begin to take the first positive steps in diminishing the hold that gangs have over our lives and communities.
Now, more than a year after the death of Stephanie Kuhen, no less than 30 new consortia consisting of more than 100 private and public agencies across the city have applied for funding from the city of Los Angeles' Community Development Department.
L.A. Bridges proposes to tackle the city's gang problem by focusing on prevention and intervention strategies, an approach that is increasingly supported by a growing body of literature. The work of UC Berkeley Professor Pedro Noguera in his ``Reducing and Preventing Youth Violence'' series is an excellent example. However, the academic community has yet to arrive at clear consensus on effective prevention and intervention strategies.
To be sure, L.A. Bridges will not by itself arrest the menacing problems of gangs - effective enforcement tactics and suppression strategies are urgently needed too.
We can't guarantee that this approach will prevent other children from facing the fate of Stephanie, Daniel or Corrie who were so innocently and tragically robbed of their young lives by the grim realities and the disgusting rituals of gang warfare.
However, I firmly believe that L.A. Bridges is an essential part of the solution that will, one day, protect other children from this dreaded fate. It is this conviction that gives me hope.
Photo: Jacqueline Smith, left, speaks with reporters.
David Sprague/Daily News
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|Publication:||Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)|
|Date:||Mar 21, 1997|
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