Panel Discusses Curbnig Gang Violence

The Occidental Weekly
Marjorie Camarda
Issue date: 4/30/08

Fowler 302 was packed with attendees of the Panel on Gangs in LA on April 22. It is rare to see people outside of the 18 to 22 year-old age range at Oxy, but on this occasion, the classroom was filled with clergy, police officers, local school administrators, teachers and other community members, in addition to Oxy students. Gang violence is an issue that permeates Los Angeles, so much so that it even ruptured the infamous “Oxy bubble,” forcing the community to come together in hopes of finding the solution each of them has been unable to come up with alone.

The event was organized by Selby Salonga (junior). “I recently became interested [in the issue of gang violence] because I found out that I am tied to gangs. A close relative used to be a gang member,” Selby said. On the panel were Alex Alonso, “gang scholar” and administrator of; Thomas Ward, adjunct professor at USC specializing in gang activity and Assistant Professor of Sociology Richard Mora, who has done over a decade of gang intervention work throughout LA.

The first question Selby posed to the panel was a request for the definition of a gang. The panelists described a complex history of gangs in the US, beginning with the early gangs of 150 years ago, depicted in movies like Gangs of New York, to the gangs we are familiar with today, which are built around protection, brotherhood, violence and masculinity. However, Mora said that this overplayed masculinity did not originate in gang culture. “Be it sports, be it military, we see this ethos: are you going to man up?” Mora said.

Gangs become deadly due to long-held grudges and a tendency to resort to violence. “All you need is one beef, one fight after a football game” to reignite an old feud, Mora said. However, Mora was not implying that the gang problem is a result of gang members’ inability to control their emotions or any natural affinity for violence. He said that the root cause of the nation’s gang problem is the institutional disenfranchisement of youth.

“The Romans said something which scares me,” Mora said. “‘Children will give unto society what society has given them.'” In Mora’s view, American society has given its children good reason to lash out in anger.

Alonso echoed Mora’s sentiment that people should not be too quick to completely condemn gang members. “Root problems for hard core gang members must be looked at longitudinally. What were their life experiences?” Alonso said.

Los Angeles Police Department Captain Smith voiced a similar standpoint. “Parents are unaware of the violence their kids encounter on a daily basis, whether it be robbery, getting beat up or running from someone,” Smith said. Many in attendance agreed that the solution for gang violence will not be found in condemnation, but in empathy.

“The popular saying now is, ‘We can’t arrest our way out of this,'” Alonso said. He noted that at the beginning of the City of Los Angeles’s fight against gang violence the state operated 18 prisons. “Now we have 33,” he said.

While the panelists agreed that incarceration is not the solution for ending gang violence, they and the audience were unable to come to a consensus about what the solution is. One audience member argued that schools are failing young people by not providing them with occupational skills. “You’re implying that all kids are intellectual,” she said to the panel. “Some of them need to be provided with physical skills.”

Another audience member was adamant that the church was the solution to the gang crisis. “I think that churches get overlooked in terms of values. . . . People make these choices [to join gangs] in the absence of value,” he said.

One phrase repeated by the panelists, which seems to be the official choice in the latest campaign against gangs, was “prevention, intervention, suppression.” “The solution needs to be a multi-pronged approach,” Ward said.

Though panelists and audience members alike had strong and differing opinions on how to handle LA’s gang situation, every person who voiced an opinion emphasized unity as essential to this effort. “We need to see this as a social problem,” a retired teacher in the audience said. “We need to connect with the humanity of every single person on earth . . . We need to become activists in our own right . . . Getting angry about it is not going to solve the situation.”

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