Spate of violence demands new approaches to tackling city’s gang problem
By Andres Romero 07/12/2007
It pains me to read that gang violence has once again erupted in the city where I grew up. On the other hand, however, it seems as though nothing has changed.
I am not talking about gang violence and racial tension. That has been a part of our society and culture throughout history.
My concern is the continual lack of support for those who are genuinely trying to help keep kids from killing kids.
Ten years ago I went through the same struggles and received much the same lip-service that these men are getting from those who have the power and influence to support them. Along with gang counselors Tim Rhambo and Ron Matthews, I worked on bringing kids out of gang life. But many times, because of our “untraditional” approach, we were indirectly told to tone down our efforts.
The reality was existing nonprofit organizations were afraid to let us into their circle, even though we succeeded many times in bringing rival gang members to the table for peace and truce agreements.
We did that by putting these kids into sports competitions, and we provided them with incentives.
A recent editorial in the Pasadena Weekly (“Crusaders for Peace,” June 21) said fear was the enemy. The root of fear, let me point out, is violence, which has no boundaries.
From the moment you step outside of your home, you can be at risk. In three separate incidents, my wife and brother were victims of drive-by shootings, and while my youngest son played across the street another man was shot in a drive-by.
The question is: How much longer will elected city officials continue supporting programs that have proven to be a failure? When will they start supporting the few individuals who are out there hitting the pavement?
These are people who know the real deal, who at one time were in the game, men who know the streets and the players and speak the language — and can make a real difference.
Traditional agencies, which are best mostly at talking during round-table meetings, are wasting valuable time. Life is too precious to lose this way. Give these men the support, resources, funding and whatever else they need to address this new wave of violence.
Not all gang members are killers. Nor are they all prone to violence. They are in gangs mostly to be part of something, or to simply fit in. That's because of the voids, the lack of support, in their lives. Those were my reasons for joining a gang as a youth, and 30 years later it's still true.
Kids will always make mistakes; it's part of life. But when society turns its back on them and labels them outcasts, we are all on the road to tragedy. As musician Billy Mitchell pointed out in the pages of this newspaper, some of these kids are products of “a support system that has failed,” whether that is parents, schools or society as a whole.
As a onetime gang member, youth counselor and now (through a later mistake) an inmate of a California state prison, I offer you some free advice, which has proven to work in preventing bloodshed.
* Start seriously supporting the few individuals out there risking their lives to help these kids and the community, not just the traditional Band-Aid organizations.
* Organize these kids and their parents (along with neighborhood residents) and let them express their fears and concerns before the City Council. Demand that people like Tim, Charles White and Mr. Mitchell get the resources they need. Storm in if you have to! If that doesn't work, picket and rally in front of City Hall until they get the message that enough is enough!
* Create a grassroots network in the neighborhoods of people who want to get involved and protect their kids by finding solutions. This network must be comprised of Latinos and African-Americans who know the streets.
* Select mediators between neighborhoods and City Hall to implement the solutions developed by the networks.
* Leave out of the equation law enforcement, courts, the probation department, schools and all the phony nonprofit agencies, because all you will get is lip service and more “dialogue.”
* Set up sporting events with incentives for gang members. Through experience
I know these kids will not show up if they know these are city-sponsored recreational events. I put together handball, football and basketball tournaments and these guys came to play every time. This is the perfect place to reach out to these young people.
* Lastly, pull the covers off those who have power and influence to help, but have refused. Let the kids and parents know why they are unable to help.
Just because I am in prison doesn't mean I don't know what I'm talking about. These are not your traditional approaches. But the fact is traditional approaches have failed time after time over the past decade.
In several years I will return home and I plan to continue the work that I so dearly love — helping save lives and keeping kids from killing other kids.
If anyone is serious about preventing the violence that is plaguing our neighborhoods, contact me. If anyone knows what will and won't work, it is guys like me.