From gridiron to gangs

NFL Hall of Famer Jim Brown visits The Times to discuss easing L.A.’s gang problems.
December 14, 2007
Jim Brown, NFL Hall of Fame running back and longtime gang counselor and advocate, met with The Times editorial board this week to talk about ways of easing gang problems in Los Angeles and elsewhere. Despite a nagging cold and cough, Brown discussed his latest fundraising efforts, highlighted his organization’s efforts to restore peace inside Los Angeles jails when they were hit with race riots, and assessed the work of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William Bratton, Sheriff Lee Baca and others. Here’s a partial transcript.

Jim Brown: When we all work together, that’s when we can really put a dent into the overall violence and overall at-risk cases. It’s like a partnership, and we’ve kind of put ourselves out as point guards to recognize and respect what they all do.

Lisa Richardson: Can I ask your assessment of the gang situation here in L.A.?

Brown: It fluctuates. The biggest problem is the drugs — the Latinos have taken that over. That’s almost a war that’s declared on the African Americans here. That’s what was happening in the jail that we were able to curtail. There are a lot of efforts by community groups that are very good groups to stop the violence. I know pretty much all of them. And you have a gang czar now that, if he can come up and put the right approach together, it can make a tremendous difference. Connie Rice is a key figure. Connie knows what’s going on. If she’s listened to and the gang czar funds the right organizations, you can make a tremendous difference.

Jim Newton: What do you think of the gang injunctions that the city attorney has used over the years?

Brown: The problem with injunctions is that they grab a lot of people they shouldn’t grab. That’s the negative part. And you can’t solve the problem doing that because you don’t get the community behind you. See, what happens is that law enforcement uses law enforcement techniques, but they never ingratiate themselves to the community. So the community doesn’t support law enforcement. They’re choosing between gang bangers and law enforcement officers, and they’re letting the gang bangers get away with it. So the czar was saying they’re going to make some changes in the injunctions. And I think if they make the changes, and they’re the right changes, they can be effective to a certain degree. The thing is that you need law enforcement, you need good law enforcement, you need strong law enforcement, but you also need an education. And you need a realistic approach. And what happens is that it’s very difficult to get that level groundwork.

Newton: Do you think this mayor has got a handle on it?

Brown: Well, I’ll be very honest with you . . . The mayor and I should have sat down a year, six months ago. I just say that to you. If anybody in this city at least paid attention to what Connie Rice says, just from the standpoint of her position and the knowledge that she has — and the experience she has with gang members and the respect she gets — and at some point they don’t sit down with Amer-I-Can, they’re missing the boat.

Newton: So, he’s missing the boat?

Brown: Until he sits down. Because all he’s doing is going around problem solving. Because you cannot put this together in a year or six months. This is 20 years of work. This educational foundation, it can’t even be questioned. I’m not being arrogant to you. Ninety-five percent of the young people I deal with change their lives . . .

Newton: How’s the LAPD today compared to five, 10, 15 years ago?

Brown: Well, the chief is, you know, he’s a high-profile chief.

Reporter: Does that mean he’s a good chief or a good media schmoozer?

Brown: I don’t look at it as good or bad because I don’t have his problems. I’ll answer this way: For me, if the chief were like the sheriff, oh man, we could do some great things.

Newton: What does the sheriff do that the chief doesn’t do?

Brown: The sheriff embraces those who can get results. He has a trust factor. So how can the sheriff allow us to be in his jail [unless he trusts us] and have to deal with the board of supervisors and put his reputation on the line and let us go into that jail and attempt to stop riots? He is a lawman, but he’s also a different kind of human being. He combines strong law enforcement with a human factor . . . In this work, if there is no human factor, you get no results.

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