You've got to hand it to our city's social guardians, they can see a gold lining in every tragedy. In the soul-searching that has followed last week's arrest of gang-interventionist Marlo Jones, several people gave the L.A. Times explanations for his alleged role in robbing a member of the hip hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. Jones, 30, is a former Crips member who worked with the Unity One anti-gang organization but who apparently reverted to old habits this past Saturday at the Universal Hilton, the scene of the robbery.
"He was not a professional," civil right attorney Connie Rice says in the article. "He didn't have the value system of a professional and the dedication of a professional." The solution, according to Rice and others interviewed by the Times' Andrew Blankstein and Richard Winton, is essentially to make ex-gang members civil servants:
"There is a need to build more professionalism by
giving gang interventionists a salary, healthcare benefits and
training, they said." Would a 401(k) help? How about Casual Fridays?
The city's attempts to grapple with the intractable problem of gangs has produced many an individual and civic casualty, including the ill-fated L.A. Bridges and No Guns projects that were the subject of a 2006 L.A. Weekly expose by L.A. Weekly reporters Jeffrey Anderson and Christine Pelisek. That cover story revealed the abject failure of the city to control former criminals it had put in charge of its gang-intervention programs.
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Toward the end of the Times article L.A. City Councilman Richard Alarcon likened today's gang interventionist to a tight-rope walker:
"If you lean too much one way, you aren't trusted by the people you work with," said Alarcon, who began his political career in the gang intervention bureaucracy in mayor Tom Bradley's administration. "If you lean the other way, you run afoul of the law. There's a very difficult balance."
Some would beg to differ and say there's not exactly a sublime difference between counseling at-risk youth and committing a violent jewelry heist. How the problem of gangs is dealt with is a very real, life and
death issue for Los Angeles. But throwing money at it without oversight or a plan is no solution. When it comes to the hiring and training of ex-gang members to heal their communities, the city has to figure out if it's trying to create a profession or a bureaucracy.