Lawmakers try to stop gang spread

first_imgWhile city elected and police officials wrestle with ways to quell gang violence in Los Angeles, lawmakers from Delaware to Louisiana also are looking for a national attack on gang problems. Last year, members of Congress introduced more than 15 measures addressing gangs and school violence. And so far this year, California Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer have joined with other lawmakers in rolling out seven new bills. Increasingly, analysts note that those pushing some of the toughest measures are from suburban areas newly hit by the violence once thought endemic only to Los Angeles, New York and other urban areas. “California is the gang state of America, and yet it is spreading to other states as well,” said Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca. “The other states have a better chance at stopping the gang flow,” Baca said. “It’s reassuring to have other state leaders recognize the problem in its infancy.” A Republican who represents the district east of Seattle, home to Microsoft’s Bill Gates, is pushing the U.S. attorney general to submit classified reports to Congress identifying ways to combat the top international gangs. And a Republican from the New Orleans suburbs, Rep. Bobby Jindal, has proposed a multiagency task force to help law enforcement and prosecutors share intelligence about gang and drug activity. “The problem of crime is not a new one; nor is it a problem that is limited to major urban areas like New Orleans,” Jindal said when he introduced the bill earlier this month. He noted there are three reported criminal gangs in an area he represents. Politicians’ solutions Meanwhile, Feinstein and Sen. Orrin Hatch, D-Utah, have a measure that would increase penalties for gang crimes while also sinking $1 billion into law enforcement and prevention efforts. Boxer’s measure, nicknamed “Mynesha’s Law” after a San Bernardino girl who was killed in a gang shooting, would create a national, multiagency task force charged with creating solutions to gang problems. “The problem has migrated,” noted Brian Walsh, a senior legal research fellow at the Heritage Institute in the District of Columbia. “People see a rise of gang activity in their neighborhoods.” The California Legislature is also taking note. A bill authored this year by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, would require state education and corrections agencies to establish what he calls the Gang Alternative Education Program in schools in Inglewood, Compton and Oakland. The program would provide counseling and other support services aimed at keeping children in grades four through eight out of gangs. The program would expire in 2012, though state officials would be required to track the effectiveness and report to the Legislature. “If there’s no one to recruit, then eventually (gang) numbers will dwindle, and eventually we can put an end to the deadly violence in our neighborhoods,” Dymally said. Tougher laws Last year, the Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger approved a bill aimed at adding to the tools that prosecutors use to go after gangs. Senate Bill 1222, by Senate Republican Leader Dick Ackerman, R-Irvine, added various gun-possession offenses to the crimes that prosecutors can cite in establishing a pattern of gang activity. Schwarzenegger also recently asked the federal government for more funding for National Guard anti-drug units that help patrol the Mexican border and stem the flow of narcotics that wind up being sold by street gangs. But some analysts say that while gang crime is a serious issue, it is not the spreading terror that many lawmakers are making it out to be. Jason Zeidenberg, executive director of the Justice Policy Institute, noted that despite increases over the past two years, crime rates are still at a 30-year low. Zeidenberg argued that much of what is occurring nationwide is the same juvenile delinquency the country has always seen, but demographics have changed. “The image of gang crime proliferating everywhere is not an accurate picture of what’s going on in the country,” he said. “People’s perceptions may be contributing to some of the concerns about gangs. People have a popular notion of who is in a gang.” Zeidenberg and other activists said they are hoping that Congress this year focuses as much attention on prevention efforts – especially job training and after-school programs – as it does on enforcement. Baca said the idea that communities are simply grappling with traditional juvenile delinquency is nonsense. “Gangs have access to two things that make them extraordinarily dangerous: the use of drugs and guns, weapons of war.” [email protected] (202) 662-8731 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!last_img read more