Been there, done that

Been there, done that

Local leaders need to incorporate available solutions in the fight against gang violence

By Andres Romero 08/20/2009

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How many more committee meetings are needed before City Hall and other involved agencies will admit there is no stopping gang violence, at least by them?  

Don’t get the wrong idea. There is a way to turn things around, only it won’t be found in any city meeting of otherwise well-intended but still ineffectual professionals working on the problem.

Recently, the Pasadena Weekly reported that the city paid an outside agency to study the problem, and for $33,000, the agency reported what was already pretty well-known — that part of the solution was in grassroots involvement with the kids, young adults and the parents caught up in Pasadena’s and Altadena’s expanding gang culture.

To have contracted outside its own resources to find this out from a private company boggles the mind. All any of these city officials would have to do is hit the streets and meet with the parents and gang members. (You know, like when it’s election time?) Instead, they continue forming committees made up of people from the same governing agencies and community organizations who end up doing little more than patting themselves on the back as they exit each meeting without accomplishing a damn thing.

Granted, in some cases some of these people have actually come up with good ideas, but they are unable to implement their own findings. Why? They represent authority and don’t have credibility on the street. Street gangs are not impressed by who you are or the position you hold.

Another reason is some of these officials are clueless about the gang culture, thus never truly committed to seeing through any solutions. These organizations that say they are making an impact on gang violence prevention, then selling it to City Hall with inflated reports to justify their funding, need to step to the side because they are wasting taxpayer dollars and taking up resources that can be better applied.

The outsiders the city turned to for answers came to the same conclusion that I have been preaching all along: that community organizations need grassroots leaders, regardless of who they once were. I’m referring to former gang members, as well as other residents who grew up in Pasadena — people who know the streets and the “players” and are not afraid to walk up to a group of hardened gang members. I’m also talking about ex-cons who have long since been released and proven themselves to be productive citizens.

As things stand now, our government and community organizations are out of touch. There is no one hitting the streets at night, when intervention is most needed. They have no experience or background to know where to begin. It takes a certain type of person, not just law enforcement, to go in to the “jungle.” And that isn’t a handshaking politician or some administrator with a degree in human behavior.
The story says “some high-risk individuals are already hard core and unresponsive.” It’s not that they can’t be reached — the problem lies with the type of people who are doing the reaching. I can’t understand why men like Tim Rhambo — who can meet with gang members and their “leadership” — were not embraced as a valuable asset in intervention.

When people begin to look past their reservations and allow former gang members and grassroots residents to be part of the solution, they will understand how things that could save a child’s life can be accomplished.

For a third of the money that was given to the outsiders, I would be able to give you recommendations, but I would personally see them through and not leave town. Think about it; who knows more about gang and racial violence besides law enforcement than ex-gang members? Who is more knowledgeable about street life and the game of survival?

Unfortunately, today I find myself in prison, wishing I was out there putting in work to save a life! The information I’m receiving from home is that nothing continues to be done with every new committee and group that is formed. But soon I’ll be out and once again committed to doing what I once passionately did before making the mistake of ending up here, and that was working as a gang counselor, mostly with my own funds and resources. Whether I’m welcomed or supported by City Hall and society really doesn’t matter, because the community will still be supportive.

You say you are serious about ending gang violence? Then forget these committees and invite in those who have been there and done that. It’s time to set aside differences and attitudes because it’s not about us, but kids killing kids. We already possess the valuable assets and experience needed to make a difference.

We can’t stop gang violence entirely, but we can prevent most of it with the right people working on the problem.


Andres Romero, a former independent drug and gang counselor, can be reached at V54733, California Rehabilitation Center, Norco, Calif., 92860.

Editor Kevin Uhrich contributed to this column. Contact him at kevinu@pasadenaweekly.com.

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