This commentary appeared in Los Angeles Times on December 27, 2000.
There is a short list of usual suspects: growing tensions between African
Americans and Latinos; the flood of prison inmates returning to their neighborhoods;
and of course that old reliable, gangs.
Instead of just accepting these explanations, let's look at what facts we
But as a proposed solution to the problem we have right now, cleaning up the
parks is beside the point. Is there any reason, other than blind faith, to believe
that the killings we're experiencing now result from disorderly conditions?
There are proven solutions to the youth-homicide problem. Boston's spectacular
success in this regard is now widely known: zero gun homicides by people under
the age of 18 for two years after the Boston Gun Project started up. That project,
a collaboration involving law enforcement, community groups and a university-based
research and analysis team, depended on taking a careful look at the actual
problem and then crafting a solution specifically for that problem.
In Boston's case, it really was inter-gang rivalry. The response was to threaten
convincingly that any violence by a gang member would lead to a crackdown on
the whole gang, using the resources and authority of the police, probation officers,
prosecutors and juvenile and school authorities. Under that pressure, it turned
out that the gangs could and did control the behavior of their own members,
especially when the approach was supported by local community leaders tired
of seeing their children shot.
Since the Los Angeles problem is probably different, we're likely to need
a different solution. But the process ought to be the same. Discover, in as
much detail as possible, what the real problem is and then figure out precisely
what needs to be done about it and who has to get that done.
A group of public and private agencies, working with Rand researchers, is
doing just this job in Hollenbeck. We've defined the problem clearly and identified
its source: a code of honor that supports a cycle of retaliation. Now we're
trying to figure out what to do about it.
The city should follow Hollenbeck's lead: Combine the street knowledge of
community activists, residents and gang workers with the narratives in official
LAPD homicide files to map the causes of violence throughout the city, then
tailor neighborhood-specific responses based upon those findings. And let's
do it before we see a real and lasting homicide epidemic.
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