Protecting kids from gangs

By Patrick May
Mercury News


With summer as the prime recruiting season for fledgling gang members, the city of San Jose announced a plan Friday to rain on the gangbangers’ parade.

Officials are dangling $242,804 of city money to encourage community-based groups to get to work immediately on keeping at-risk kids off the streets and engaged in healthy activities. Kicked up a notch with $100,000 from the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office, Mayor Chuck Reed’s Safe Summer Initiative should be up and running in a matter of weeks.

As Police Chief Rob Davis put it, “We can’t arrest our way out of the gang problem – we need prevention and we need intervention, so part of this program will be surgical strikes in hot spots throughout the city. Through outreach, we’re giving kids a chance to get out of a gang if they’re in one or to not get into one to begin with.”

The recipe for the new program, part of the Mayor’s Gang Prevention Task Force, is simple: keeping community centers open for extended hours in the evening, offering youth summer camps with classes in subjects such as math and science; organizing sports tournaments; taking kids on outings.

The big cheeses at Friday’s news conference – Reed, Davis and District Attorney Dolores Carr – all love the idea. But what about their teenage clientele, already out of school for the summer and on the streets?

At strip malls, city parks, skateboard courses and school play fields, we asked kids to tell us briefly what they thought of the city’s plan and how they’d suggest improving it.

Jose Avila, 15: “They should start by putting in more soccer fields. And where they have fields, they should add more nets. Here at Washington Elementary, we have to use this baseball backstop fence for a net.”

Fabian Garcia, 13: “It’s a good idea to extend hours at the community centers. We can stay there longer and hang out. That’s a smart idea, because it keeps us off the streets where gangsters are always walking around and trying to recruit us.”

Teru Lynch, 18: “They should create a boxing club; kids would love that, because it’s a way for us to get respect from other kids. Longer hours won’t change much, because all they’re doing is postponing the illegal stuff that happens anyway when the centers close for the night. So they need instead to offer us programs that let us earn the respect of others.”

Alfonso Reyes, 17: “Good food, that’ll always bring in the kids. They should offer more tournaments, like pingpong or freestyle battles, which are poetic rapping contests. And when you hire counselors to work with us, don’t get somebody who just tries to be cool with us. And make sure they know how to speak correctly, someone with basic street smarts.”

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