Gang Intervention

By Dennis Freeman
Our Weekly Staff Writer

March 11, 2005

Last week in our cover story, we took an expansive look at the gang culture and presence in Los Angeles. The topic is of ongoing concern in our community, as lives continue to be destroyed as a result, whether by violent deaths or imprisonment. This week, we begin the first of a two-part series that examines the problems leading to gang life and ways that concerned community activists and organizations are trying to save our youth.

Torre Reese has seen more than his share of young African-American men and boys dying.
Reese, director of a L.A. Bridges Program at Audubon Middle School in South Los Angeles, is sick and tired of seeing young lives being snuffed out because of the ever-increasing black-on-black crime.
Reese has become disgusted at the fact that not enough black men have come back to the community to help and mentor some of these troubled youths.
More than ever, he said, African-American men need to reach back to the community and make a difference in one or two of these kids’ lives.
They have to, he said. Even though there are hundreds of gang intervention and prevention programs in place throughout the city to help curb gang violence, it is not enough to combat the problem.
With up to 463 known gangs running rampant in Los Angeles, according to the LAPD, gang intervention and prevention programs are necessary to try to quell the problem.
But it’s going to take more than those programs to actually eradicate the problem, said Reese. It’s going to take men, black men, to step up to the plate, reach back, and help steer some of these troubled youths from further destroying their lives.
The onus today is especially on black men, said Reese, who grew up fatherless.
“Most of it is on the black man,” Reese said. “I didn’t have a father, but I pride myself on being a good father. Reaching these kids is not that difficult. I see a need, particularly focusing on males.”
A painful reminder of this need is the loss of two recent Audubon students that his program tried to reach. Both students died violent deaths.
Last November, 15-year-old Marvel Belcher was shot 16 times in an area called “the Jungle.” And last month, 13-year-old Devin Brown was shot and killed by a Los Angeles police officer.
“The thing that sickens me is that when Marcel was shot 16 times, I didn’t see any of our black activists. We have accepted the relationship of our own self-hate,” he said.
Brown had lost his father and a brother to urban violence. On the Friday before he was killed, Reese said Brown had just been placed in the L.A. Bridges program, where he oversees 35-40 students daily. Losing Brown before he had the chance to make a dent in his life gnaws at Reese.
“If he was in my program, his life would have been different,” Reese said. “If he just got in the program, maybe this situation might not have happened.”
Reese said Brown had spoken with one of his teachers at the school and gave her a chilling revelation: “I need support,” he told the teacher, according to Reese.
“She had a feeling that something was wrong.”
Two days later, Brown’s life was gone. “He was a nice, sweet, ordinary kid,” Reese said.
In the wake of Brown’s death, Reese is practically begging the community to get more involved and stop leaving black children at the mercy of the streets.
Reese said the youths are not the total blame for what’s going in the streets today. Adults today have been a bad example to them.
He cites the violence and sexual content in movies and television videos, religious leaders bickering amongst each other, and what many feel is the unjustified War on Iraq as examples of grown-ups failing to provide moral examples for African-American children.
Reese said what’s being played out in the streets is only a mirror image of what adults have put in front of young people.
“Young people know their own preachers don’t get along,” he said. “To focus on young people is one thing, but they’re a reflection of us. It’s the fault of the adults. We wonder why these tragedies continue to happen? We are not doing our jobs. We have to have every kid monitored,” said Reese. “They have to be loved.”

African-American children are often at a disadvantage when it comes to living a life of normalcy. Most black children, particularly in urban areas, are often subjected to what amounts to almost guaranteed failure. With gangs roaming their territories, poverty and homelessness surrounding them and the lack of parental guidance, African-American children fight to just survive.
Black-on-black crime remains a serious issue that the African-American community has yet to come to grips with or provide solutions for.
Gang-intervention programs such as L.A. Bridges; The Los Angeles TenPoint Coalition; Stop the Violence, Increase the Peace; African American Summit on Violence Prevention (AASVP); Gangsters Anonymous and Pathways To Your Future provide alternatives for youths on the brink of destruction.
Yet those programs can’t provide the basic necessities that a parent or a guardian is supposed to provide. Most of the time, these programs are getting youths when they are either in gangs or close to joining them, which makes efforts to save a kid difficult.
Everything begins and ends at the home of a child. For African-American children, home can mean almost anyplace. It could mean an aunt’s house where drugs are being passed around like candy.
It could be in an environment where they see their mother subjected to physical and verbal abuse from a boyfriend.
It could mean sleeping on the steps of a friend’s house. Or it could be living in a home where generations of gang members reside.
More often than not, for African-American children, particularly here in South Los Angeles, escaping to a place where they can feel safe usually means strategizing to get away from gang turf.
Many social aspects can be pointed to as being causes of the ongoing rise of black-on-black crime and violence in the African-American community.
The lack of black men in the home is certainly one factor.
According to a study compiled by the University of Texas at Austin School of Social Work, the great number of African-American men being locked away in prison is one reason. According to the study, African Americans make up nearly 43 percent of the U.S. prison population.
Black men, ranging in age between 20 and 29, make up 10 percent (428,999) of those incarcerated in prison, compared to 2.9 percent for Latinos, and 1.1 percent for non-white males.
African Americans make up just about 85 percent of those convicted for possession of crack cocaine. For black men in California, who make up just 7 percent of the state’s population, going to jail or prison seems almost a given.
Black males represent 24 percent of the state’s prison population and 44 percent of those sentenced for a third strike under the “Three Strikes” law.
An even more alarming statistic shows that 40 percent of all juveniles in custody are African Americans, according to UTASSW’s study.
That’s just the beginning of many problems that African Americans have to overcome if they intend to straighten out the gang problem in the city.
African-American children make up 10 percent of the population in Los Angeles County, yet they comprise 38.6 percent of all children in the foster care system. Black children are more likely to end up in foster care and stay longer that their Latino and white peers.
Black infants in California enter the foster care system at a rate disproportionally higher than Latino and white babies.
Another contributor to the festering problems in the African-American community that enhances gang activity is the fact that blacks lag behind in earnings. The average median family income for Asian and white families is $60,000 or higher. African Americans fall well short of that mark, with an average family income of $39,726 in the state of California.
However, where it hits the hardest is when it comes to African-American women with no spouse. According to UTASSW’s study, 67 percent of African-American female head of households with no spouse earn less than $25,000 annually.
African Americans represent 44 percent of the homeless population. Adding to that problem, the study shows that African Americans, regardless of age, are more likely to be subjected to serious violent crimes than whites. Blacks are also more likely to know someone who has been a victim of a violent crime.
According to United Friends of the Children, half of the youths in foster care will become homeless within six months after leaving those facilities. UFC also reports that there is a 50 percent unemployment rate for foster care youths and that nearly half of those in care don’t finish high school.

We will continue the discussion on Gang Intervention and Prevention next week, in the second part of this two-part series.

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