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
To gang intervention workers whose programs have a healthier administrative record, such as Blinky Rodriguez, middle-class folks don’t get it. “With an explosion of teenagers in our population there is so much testosterone on the street,” he says. “And so many guns. We can’t build relationships with children in our communities fast enough.” Yet he admits that there’s little accountability when interventionists subcontract out the work. “You can’t see what’s going on,” he says.
Councilman Cardenas worries that ordinary citizens don’t appreciate the need for such programs: “Unless you’ve lost a loved one or know what it’s like to hit the floor dodging bullets, how can you appreciate what these guys do to help our children?” Yet Cardenas and Rodriguez both struggle to explain how the millions of dollars spent on programs like L.A. Bridges actually divert any kids from gangs.
Ridley-Thomas, asked who is to blame for the lack of oversight, replied: “You.” Asked if he meant the public, the media, or taxpayers, he replied, “All of the above.”
Take that ambiguity, then consider the lax contracts, nepotism and noncommunication with law enforcement endemic to these programs — and it’s a formula for massive waste. Tom Hayden, author of Street Wars, calls L.A. Bridges “rhetorically a nice idea.” But, he says, it focuses on allocating public dollars to each council district, instead of producing results that are measured by closely tracking homicide rates or street crime: “The problem is, the city has left the task of turning lives around to 15 separate council members.”
Retired prison gang investigator Richard Valdemar laughs at the notion that Hayden pokes holes in the system now — after playing a prominent role promoting Hector Marroquin.
“These politicians are so desperate to find a former bad guy turned good guy,” Valdemar says, that the system was doomed to absurdity. “Getting gang members to talk to kids is like getting Cheech and Chong to give lectures on the dangers of smoking marijuana.”
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