Alex Alonso interviews Maxine Waters in Los Angeles

Interview with Maxine Waters – January 18, 2003

Maxine Waters speaks with Alex Alonso from Streetgangs.com about LAPD Cheif William Bratton.

Maxine Waters speaks with Alex A. Alonso from Streetgangs.com about LAPD Cheif William Bratton.

[From the Rita Walters learning Complex in South Los Angeles on January 18, 2003. Addressing a groups of youth men and women and a panel that included Jimmy McGhee, project directors, Charline Nunez, LAPD Assistant Chief Jim McDonnell, Bill Maritnez of the Gang Violence Bridging Project at California State University of Los Angeles, Mark-Antonio Brant of The Children’s Collective, Dr. Frederick Banks, former Chief Deputy Probation Officer, Bernard Parks former LAPD Chief of Police, and Maria Perez from Councilwoman Jan Perry’s office. ]

Maxine Waters: Good morning, I wanted to take this opportunity to respond to his question, because I’m going to have to leave. But before I do that, I wanted to give a very special thank you to ??????????, to all of our panel participants here, to all of you who are here to support the efforts of young people to try and getting involved of creating a dialogue with law enforcement to see if we can create better relations.

A question that was on the agenda today when I came here was, what about the “stop and frisk” policy, and to add to that we’ve just been told that the committee that you represent wanted to know how do we stop the incarceration of so many young people because we are number one in the country in incarceration. Ok. If you will allow me to just take a few minutes and share something with you in the most open and honest way that I can.

We’ve had some problems. We’ve got problems in our city, we’ve got problems in our neighborhoods and they just have not been dealt with in ways that will help young people realize their potential, and they’re not dealt with in ways that we can help the police department know how to deal with some of the problems we have in our communities. Now ladies and gentleman as you sit here today, you know that we are in Eight Tray Gangster Crip community, you just know that don’t you. And you also know that wherever you go, you’re going to be in somebody’s hood. And that within itself needs to be understood and dealt with.

We’ve got gang problems in Los Angeles and the greater Los Angeles area. Now I have this opinion, just because you belong to a gang doesn’t mean you’re bad. Gangs are thought of, of living normal in ways that you think about community associations. We tend to organize in our society and come together with people that are like us, who think like us, who want to do the same kinds of things. Now, while I say to you that, that does not have to be that its wrong being in a gang, but its unacceptable to be in a gang and commit a crime. Society does not stand for that. So if you’re in a gang and you commit crimes as gang members, you not only create problems for yourself, for the families, for the whole communities, for the police department and for society in general. If you are in a gang and you are facing off with somebody, retaliating, you put your whole family at risk. You put the whole community at risk and then you limit the opportunities to move around.

If I got a job for you over here in this hood and you can’t come because this is not your hood because somebody’s looking for you, you’ve just given up the opportunities to grow and to develop, and to earn money and to do what you could do. So, first thing we’ve got to do is we’ve got to deal with some reality. Some of what we do is we bring it on ourselves.

Now, I’m not letting the police off the hook. I mean as detectives and chiefs sit here today, we’ve got to get together and know we have a lot of differences. And I know the differences of the police department, and Daryl Gates and I just couldn’t get along. We went at it all the time. We went at it because the police are very powerful. They have a gun and they have a badge. And to have that kind of power you have to be very wise on how to use it. Not all officers are wise in the way that they use that power. We pay them to protect and serve, but if you take your gun and your badge and you jack me up every time that you see me, because you don’t like the way that I look, or if you ride in my neighborhood and you make me get up against the car, put me on the sidewalk, call me names and treat me badly, then we’re not going to get along. I’m not going to respect you, and you never did, you didn’t respect me.

And so, we’ve got to say, not only to ourselves and our young people, look, everybody has got to take some personal responsibility. We’re not saying that you cannot be with your friends, and anybody who says that will differ with me. You can be with your friends and I don’t like any laws that say you can’t be with your friends in your neighborhood. It doesn’t work that way. It just doesn’t work that way and this is something that we’ve got to come to grips with, cause there’s people that would say that you can’t hang out in a certain place, you can’t be with certain people. And I know why they’re trying to do that, because they’re trying to break up gang relationships, but people are just gonna rebel and that’s not gonna work and that’s something we’ve got to work on.

Folks deal with it in these neighborhoods and because they may have been in trouble or somebody else may have been in trouble, or the cause is designated in somebody’s area, to say we can’t get together and hang out is just not going to work. Those people are gonna do that. Now, secondly, let me just say to the young people. Your mothers and your daddies and your grandmothers and your neighborhood love you, but we cannot wake up in the morning not knowing whether somebody’s going to shoot a gun, not knowing whether or not our houses are going to be shot too, so you got to help us. Yeah help us. And one of the things is, we’re going to try and get others in the community who need to be in these kinds of meetings.

Now having said all of that, there was a time, when a police officer, who knew the people in the neighborhood, saw somebody doing something that looked as if they were gonna get in trouble, or, acting in certain ways, they could get out and talk to him and even go home with him and talk to mothers and daddies and grandmothers. There was a time when that happened, folks didn’t get locked up for every little thing they did. We don’t want police officers snatching kids off the street, locking them up, because they suspect this they suspect that. We want to develop relationships and whatever the organization is in the police department to get to know the people in the community and the people get to know the police officers. Once you get to know young people, then you know you’re not looking at the clothes they’re wearing, you’re not looking cause they’re pants sag low, you’re not looking cause they’re hat’s turned back. This is a person, this is a real person with a real personality and you’re looking at the person. And if you do that we can avoid these threats and this incarceration.

I want to tell you, the more young people are incarcerated the worse its gonna get. They’re gonna hate you. They’re gonna get out of the system and when they come back, they’re gonna be worse. They fell brutalized and many of the young people, who you think are bad, are young people who make it on their own, don’t have a lot of support, in a way that maybe you and I have support. Some of them don’t even have food to eat or places to stay and grandmothers with no money trying to help out. So, really they have a right to have an attitude. And so let’s try and understand that.

Now I think we have a new opportunity here, we’ve got a new police chief. He’s got an opportunity to come and make things right. He’s got an opportunity to come and get to know the ministers and the leaders of programs and all of that. If we start there, I think we’ve got an opportunity to straighten out what Daryl Gates and all the others have exacerbated. I’m going to support the young people in every way that I can. I’m going to stand up for them, I’m going to support them. And I want to be supportive of the police and have good relationships. Its not that I don’t like you, I respect you. I would like you to do things with respect. I want you to do it in a certain way that young people will feel comfortable and will come talk to you. Not every time they see you roll in, they got to run, but they can say, ah, and call you by your names and say how you doing and you can call them by their names. We want that kind of reorganization. So, there’s no easy answer to how we can stop the incarceration, but I do think we can begin to talk about it in the ways that you are doing today that will help get us to a point that will help reduce the incarceration. And I thank you for having us here today.

Interview with Street Gangs

Alex Alonso: Ok, Los Angeles had about 600 plus homicides last year and its more than we’ve had in a long time. What do you think are some of the reasons not just homicides and violence went up, but specifically gang violence has increased in the last couple of years in L.A.?

Maxine Waters: I don’t know and going out on the street and talking with young people about gang violence, it appears to have increased I’m told that a lot of it is about retaliation. Now what you have is young people who have been shot or killed over a long period of time, some of their relatives might have been incarcerated, they have come back and that this is what it’s all about. We don’t know for sure what it’s all about. But one thing we do know is we’ve got to do everything we could to stop it.

Maxine Waters
Maxine Waters speaks with Alex Alonso from Streetgangs.com about LAPD Cheif William Bratton.

AA: Well I’ve been listening to a lot of different people give their opinion about crime and prison in Los Angeles. One of the views that I hear a lot is that there’s been a lack in the black leadership, not just federally or state wide but locally. Do you think there’s any truth to the faltering black leadership locally here in Los Angeles?

MW: Well I don’t know what that means, when it’s a faltering black leadership. If one can be more specific and if they could say, leadership hasn’t been enough to get probation for programs, they haven’t done enough to support families. I don’t quite know what that means. I think African American leadership in particular is extremely responsive in the way that they fight for resources in the community. Whether you’re talking about support for welfare for poor families, support for the homeless. We’re known as the big tax and spenders, We’re known as the liberals who do this all the time. But we do it despite the fact it is not politically popular. We do it because we know that there is a lot of poverty and homelessness and mothers and fathers who may be incarcerated, kids living with their grandmothers. And so, African American elected officials are extremely responsive and responsible.

AA: Well I spoke to Chief Bratton about a week ago and he said that the 77th division was the gang capital of the United States. Your district, or 77th division is mostly in your district. How do you feel as a Congresswoman that the chief of police is actually saying, I guess in other words that your district is the gang, murder, or the crime capital of the United States?

MW: Well let me say this, the 35th congressional district, which most people don’t know its boundaries, includes Gardena, Hawthorne, Lawndale, Westchester, all of the airport area, parts of South Central Los Angeles and of course we have gang problems as part of my district as well as we have gang problems in Rampart. At one time they were saying that Rampart was the gang capital of the world. I think sometimes, when law enforcement is attempting to try and focus in and describe what is going on, often times the descriptions are not exact, they are more general than not. I accept the fact that there are gang problems in South Central Los Angeles and in the 77th division. And I accept the fact that there needs to be more work, more resources. I work with gang members, I have for many, many years. Right down the street from here I created a program called Community Build. I was the first one in public housing projects to create a program. And so I know a lot of the past gang leaders, many of whom we’ve mainstreamed, who are homeowners now, who are not gangbanging anymore and we are trying to get the “OG’s” to come in and deal with the young people, the ones who are 14, 15 years old, they don’t have the kind of leadership that we have among the older ex-gang members. And so, all this work must be done and it requires resources. People are coming at it in a lot of different ways, nobody’s got the answer but we’ve all got to continue and try.

AA: Inside, you mentioned Chief Daryl Gates and some of his policies and strategies. We’ve been through Daryl Gates, we had Willie Williams, we had Bernard Parks who is here right now and we have Chief Bratton. And Chief Bratton has been doing a lot of heavy talking about the gang problem, but he’s sort of doing it with a little sensitive edge unlike the way Gates did. What is your view and opinion of how Chief Bratton is approaching it and do you think that his approach is a good way to go for the future of LA?

MW: Chief Bratton has not proven himself here in this city yet. He has come in, been selected, he’s trying to get the lay of the land, he’s made some comments that some could consider a bit temperate. He has called in a lot of the leaders in different ways. Some of our young people who work with gangs, Bo Taylor and Tony Mohamed, these guys have all met with him. They’re working with him on a march that’s coming up in March.

AA: That’s unlike the way Gates and the community’s relationship was in the ’80’s wouldn’t you say?

MW: Well Gates absolutely had no relationship. He came in with a battering ram. Gates was the one who knocked down doors even doors of innocent people as he was trying to send a message about being tough and being in control. Even though this police chief attempted to describe what was going on before he really understood it, yes, he appears to be meeting with a lot of the right people, he’s meeting with ministers. As elected officials we’ve met with him, we’ve talked with him. And so, we’re watching him and we’re waiting for him to roll out what is supposed to be his new strategy and new organization. He has an opportunity to define himself, that’s yet to come.

AA: Living here in LA and listening to all the political pundits, I know one of your adversaries, Larry Elder, talks a lot about you. He talks about he wants to sit down and have a debate with you. And he actually talks a lot about these issues, about gang violence and the chief and you hear a lot about this and his views on the radio. Are you ever going to have a debate with him and have an intelligent conversation and maybe go in his show and talk about these same issues like I’m talking about with you right now?

MW: I am an elected official and a public policy maker, I’m not an entertainer, And I don’t entertain entertainers. People who do this and earn their living are trying to create confrontation and build up an audience I don’t play to. That’s not my game. I do my work, I go to the Congress of the United States, I debate the issues, I work with my committee, I deliver to my community. But I don’t play the media game of entertainment. I’m not an entertainer.

AA: Well thank you very much for spending a couple minutes with me and I wish you luck in the future of your Congress woman position.

MW: Thank you so very much.

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