13 cities share anti-gang ideas

13 cities share anti-gang ideas
BY LESLIE GRIFFY, San Jose Mercury News
LA Daily News
Article Last Updated:06/21/2007 10:10:01 PM PDT

SAN JOSE – Public safety officials from 13 cities around the state are in San Jose to learn how to reach people like former gang member Marie Gonzales.

The 29-year-old mother of two told an audience of law enforcement personnel, outreach workers and city leaders Thursday that she ran with violent gangs on San Jose’s east side because she didn’t know she had other options.

After a rival gang targeted her home in a drive-by shooting, endangering her children, Gonzales said she reached out to groups that help young people turn their lives around.

Her story and others like it will be a centerpiece of the California Cities Gang Prevention Network’s two-day conference, which is focusing on how to create a communitywide effort to fight gang violence. The conference concludes today.

“A city cannot do this alone,” said Clifford M. Johnson, director of the National League of Cities’ Institute for Youth, Education and Families.

Programs that fight violence, deter gang membership and reform those who are already members must include social groups, church leaders and schools, San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed said.

“We can never let up,” Reed said. “We can never be done, because there are always more kids out there.”

Johnson and Salinas Mayor Dennis Donohue called the San Jose Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force – which brings together education, nonprofit and community leaders to fight against youth violence – a model that other cities are starting to follow.

The state anti-gang network credits San Jose’s program with reducing violent youth crime by half, cutting the high school dropout rate and limiting the number of children put into the criminal justice system. Its programs helped Gonzales turn her life around.

Gonzales said gangs were part of her family life and she joined a gang at age 11. By the time she was a 15-year-old mother, she had several gang tattoos. After gang members on bicycles shot into her home, she knew something had to change. But, with the tattoos it was hard for her and her husband, Sabian Gonzalez, to leave their gang lives behind.

She hooked up with a program that helped her get her tattoos removed, then landed a job with San Jose’s Department of Family and Children’s Services.

“I never thought that would happen,” she said, “given my background.”

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