Kudos, to Northeast LA Director from the Mayor’s office Abigail Ramirez, for inviting me. I was one of the lucky ones that got a chance to go that was neither related to the mayor or on the staff of an elected official.
I wore jeans, brown suede open toe flats, a bright banana yellow top, a short sleeve black blazer, my hair was loose and a tan fedora with red/black/brown trimming. I was called “Dick Tracey” by a homeless man.
I get to Parker Center in Downtown Los Angeles and I see protesters lined up against the entranced, old people, young people, black, brown, yellow, white, you name it. I talked to a dude that had “Black Panther” tattooed on his neck. He said he was protesting the Mayor’s initiative to have more police on the streets. He said, “I ain’t mad at the police, I’m mad that resources have to be spent to detain our youth as oppose to having those same resources available for programs to keep these same youth in more fulfilling after school programs”.
Cant be mad at that.
I talked to a young black high school student who had a sign that read “Give Me College, Not Jail”.
I walked past them all with a weird feeling in my stomach because I believe in their movement and in their struggle, and I was taking those beliefs with me, while I pulled out my invitation from my “DENIM DAY” bag and walked into Parker Center. Nothing but a sea of black suits and police officers. It was a different world.
I was escorted to a seat, the Mayor had just started and he began to speak about the increase in gang violence in Los Angeles.
He spoke about a 2003 summer pilot program that kept parks and rec opened in Baldwin Park till 2am. He said violence went down, and in a community where gang violence kept rising, that summer, there were no homicides in the area. I wondered, if the program was so great, why was it not implemented in other areas sooner? Why wait five years to think it was a good idea?
Now that the Mayor’s office took control of gang intervention programs thanks to the assessment of city controller Laura Chick with the help of Connie Rice, the office of the mayor believes he can have a firmer grasp of the issues of gang reduction, prevention and discipline (read: incarceration).
The Mayor stated that “Crisis was the mother of opportunity” and we have to wonder, opportunity for who? For the police department that is getting 800 new officers? With the city of Los Angeles in a sever budget crisis, who will pay for that? Homeowners, that’s who. If you own a home and are not loosing it in the foreclosure crisis, you will see an increase of 40% in your trash collection tax.
But let’s go back to the issue of gangs, the gang czar and the Mayor’s plan to keep gang violence on check. At the end of the event, while all the news media gathered around and asked questions about the budget and the Mayor’s plan to unveil a top down strategy on gang control, I asked Laura Chick, City Controller if the plans for the Mayor’s crack down on gang violence in the community included an overview of the current salaries being paid to gang prevention specialist.
Now, I like Laura Chick, I think she is kick ass, but the blank stare and the “I’m not sure what the salaries are”, really confirmed to me that no matter how much the Mayor tries to take control of yet another multi million dollar entity of power in the City of Los Angeles, the people that loose out the most are those that are actually doing the work. How can you access the issue of gang prevention, if you don’t see the importance of taking into consideration the daily lives of the people that put their own lives at risk to do this work? How can you talk prevention without looking it at the type of worker that takes on a role as a gang prevention specialist?
Most gang prevention specialists are reformed gang members who have quit a gang, have been in jail, and have been trained to prevent youth from wasting their lives rotting in prison. These specialists have had their tattoos removed and are often times threatened, intimidated and victimized by other hard core gang members who want to obviously recruit young kids to their gangs.
Its not an easy job, and at $8-$12 and hour, with a daily stress of being shot and killed, it doesn’t get any easier when the people in the ivory tower of city hall, don’t even know about the wages they earn. This is where gang prevention begins! And if the value of gang prevention is at this mediocre salary, with often times, limited resources for after school programs, what are the options?
The heat is only going to get hotter. A hot summer means lots of people on the streets trying to stay cool. Hot weather makes people annoyed, and anxious. Pools and parks are closed, community centers don’t have funding to stay open, the lack of mentors and resources all add up to the domino affect with the final result being a spike in gang initiation and violence.
I hope that the Mayor’s plan in having 800 more cops on the street will simmer down the issue of summer gang craziness. And while the Mayor’s new plan also includes community anti-gang organizations to compete for more funding, this really also showcases which organization is more educated in proposal and grant writing. It’s almost like the organizations are competing on who can save more lives. A fun little anti-gang war game.
The truth is, if gang prevention specialist aren’t appreciated, then neither are the youth they are trying to protect, and this whole deal with gang prevention and the Mayor’s action to take gang prevention money away from the City Council is really just a ploy for power at the expense at the kids of low income and inner city communities.
If you know gang prevention, you know there are only a few community groups that work. Model programs after them, pay the staff decent wages, and allow the programs to grow from the bottom up, center by center, case by case, neighborhood by neighborhood. You cant create change on the corner of 18th St and Pico or Figueroa and Ave 42, from a sky tower at City Hall. Just doesn’t work that way.