By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
“Injunctions sometimes work up to a point, but it can’t just be suppression; there’s got to be a balanced approach,” said Rodriguez, who heads a gang-counseling center in the San Fernando Valley. “This is a Band-Aid solution.”
No clear solution is in sight for the gang problem, but a good start would be for residents, gang members and law-enforcement officers to get together and talk, Rodriguez said. All angles should be discussed, even faith-based solutions, which he believes are some of the best ways to steer youths from a life of crime. “Ultimately, when I forgave the three guys who murdered my son, it was because of my faith,” Rodriguez said. “I had to walk it the way I talked it.”
For Pico-Union resident William Portillo, a Bible was what led him to leave the gang life. At the age of 19, he found himself in the Los Angeles County Jail for armed robbery. After being involved in a skirmish between Latino and African-American inmates, Portillo was sent to solitary confinement and given a Bible. There, in the loneliness of his cell, Portillo pledged that if God would free him from a possible 16-year sentence, he would leave his gang and consecrate his life to doing good.
Shortly thereafter, Portillo’s sentence was reduced to seven months through a county program. Ten years later, he now heads Prevención y Rescate, an anti-gang program based at Pico-Union’s St. Thomas the Apostle Church.
Portillo and a group of 30 ex–gang members walk and preach in Pico-Union’s and East Los Angeles’ toughest neighborhoods. Injunctions sound good, he said, but gangs have ways of getting around them.
“Gang members laugh at them,” Portillo said. “What has happened now is that the older gang members who are named in the injunctions just move to another place and make younger gang members, called ‘little gangsters,’ do the work for them.”
Besides preaching, Prevención y Rescate also tries to have gang members remove their tattoos and to place them in jobs. Parents, especially in the immigrant communities, are often most in need of counseling.
“When parents from Mexico and other countries come here, they are often blinded by material things. They focus on a new car or a home, and both of them work like crazy to make money,” Portillo said. “They often forget the most important thing, which is their children. No nanny will take the place of the parents, so when their children are ensnared by gangs, it’s too late.”
Often, community programs designed to help gang members work on only one aspect of the problem, Portillo noted. Socially oriented programs, like sports activities or finding jobs for youths, more often than not lack spiritual or psychological counseling even when they are faith-based, while some church-based methods fall short of offering both social and pragmatic alternatives to the gang life.
Jeffrey Grogger, a professor in the department of policy studies at UCLA, conducted a two-year study on injunctions. He concluded that their greatest success has been in helping to reduce violent crimes by 5 percent to 10 percent in the targeted areas. In “The Effects of the Los Angeles County Gang Injunctions on Reported Crime,” he states that this is mostly due to a decrease in aggravated assaults.
“There are many aspects of these injunctions that aren’t necessarily measured by reported crime statistics,” Grogger said. “I can’t say anything about how they affect graffiti or how in practice they affect loitering by gang members.”
Crime statistics went up almost 40 percent in the Westlake and Pico-Union areas in the months after the injunction was lifted. The latest statistics show that crime has decreased, except for violent crimes; more than half of the 16 homicides occurring from the beginning of the year to May 12 are attributed to gangs, said Rampart Captain Michel Moore.
New anti-gang units have replaced the disbanded CRASH units, Moore said, and their success will in large part depend on support from communities. Rampart Station is currently working with many community groups, as well as trying to support prevention programs. “We have substantial challenges ahead of us,” said Moore, who is trying to have a new injunction filed against the 18th Street gang. “We believe that by pursuing and obtaining an injunction we can suppress this violence.”
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