By California Attorney General Bill Lockyer
Gang violence is widespread, dangerous and deadly in many California communities. Last year, 653 people were killed in Los Angeles alone, an 11 percent increase primarily attributed to gang violence, according to the Los Angeles Police Department.
Gang violence can erupt at any time or any place and the victims are not always the desired target. Over the course of just a few days last May, an 18-year-old man was fatally shot while playing basketball with friends at a Rohnert Park playground; a 16- and 17-year-old were killed by two gunmen in South Los Angeles; a 16-year-old girl was shot dead in front of her house in Sun Valley; and a mother and her 4 year-old daughter were seriously injured in Dinuba when someone fired a shotgun into their bedroom window. All these incidents are suspected of being gang-related.
Whether you are a parent, educator, member of law enforcement, youth or concerned community member, you can help stem future gang violence in your community. The key is to refuse to wait for violence to occur before doing something.
My office has just released our newest edition of “Gangs: A Community Response,” revised and updated by Al Valdez, an investigator for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office and a nationally recognized expert on gangs. This publication will help you identify types of gangs, signs of gang involvement and some strategies to prevent and decrease gang activity in your community.
Perhaps the most critical role for parents is to carefully watch what is happening in their own homes. Signs that a child may be involved in a gang may include decline in grades, change of friends, truancy, keeping late hours, alcohol and other drug use, having large sums of money or expensive items which cannot be explained, glamorizing gangs and developing major attitude problems with parents and other authority figures. Other signs of gang membership can include the presence of gang graffiti on books and in their rooms, photos with gang insignia, gang tattoos, hand signals and other secretive behavior and contacts by the police.
To help prevent gang involvement, increase your awareness of your child’s belongings, clothes and room; know who your child’s friends are and where they hang out; meet the parents of your children’s friends; volunteer at your child’s school; and help your community arrange activities for youth.
Parents and concerned community members can also watch for the beginning signs of gangs in your community. When gangs first form, they usually do not immediately engage in drive-by shootings, robberies and murders. Initial signs are more likely to be graffiti vandalism, petty thefts, fights at school and delinquent behavior. It is during this initial phase that family and community members, joining together to monitor gang activities and coordinate intervention and prevention programs, can have the greatest impact. By implementing and supporting mentoring programs, services for at-risk youth, recreational and after-school programs and jobs for young people, you can help prevent violence.
These and other ideas are contained in “Gangs: A Community Response” to assist you and your community in developing solutions to prevent young people from joining gangs and help them embark on a brighter future. “Gangs: A Community Response” is available online at www.safestate.org/shop/files/Gangs_Comm.resp.pdf, or for a copy by mail, please write my Crime and Violence Prevention Center, Attorney General’s Office, 1300 I Street, Sacramento, CA 95814.