Cities all across the nation are doing what they can to stem gang violence and prevent youths from joining gangs. Residents in many cities, including Los Angeles, Oakland, New Orleans, Baltimore, and Philadelphia have sometimes found themselves in desperate situations as gang problems spiral out of control. Consequently, some large cities dealing with serious gang violence have also adapted more desperate policies in order to combat the problem. Some authors have highlighted these new prevention techniques on this blog with mixed emotions.
Los Angeles, which has some of the toughest anti-gang measures in the country, has inspired other cities to follow suit. However, as a recent New York Times article described it, some of those cities that adapted policies like L.A.’s are starting to repeal them, as they view many of the policies as ineffective, even counterproductive.
Large-scale arrests have been a primary component of L.A.’s anti-gang initiatives. But according to the Times article, in Dallas, where many of the L.A. policies are currently being retracted, District Attorney Craig Watkins said, “L.A. has this approach of being tough on crime. But the result of that is overflowing prisons, high crime rates, and increasing numbers of gang members. Now we want to be smart on crime.” The article went on to describe how, even in Los Angeles, law enforcement officers have recently begun to focus more on prevention and intervention, visiting the homes of possible gang members to encourage their parents to get involved, rather than relying solely on arrests to reduce crime.
But meanwhile, California’s overcrowded prison system is being labeled “an emergency,” and the wide-net approach to arrests has unavoidably placed young people who are not actual gang members into prison systems where they are immersed in gang culture. Across the country in Charlotte, NC, which has adopted many of the hard-line policies of Los Angeles, the city’s Mayor Patrick McCrory recently conceded that “young black men not affiliated with gangs could easily be mistaken for gang members,” according to the Times article. He was quoted as saying, “If they act and dress like a gang member, most people will assume they are a gang member, and that’s not beneficial for anyone. This gang-like culture is tough to separate out — whether that’s fair or not, that’s the truth.”
And it really is the truth. I can easily recall years of being unfairly stereotyped myself. And even today, I still experience it from time to time, due to some of my rougher features, I suppose. But that’s where the problem lies. The vast majority of young people are positive and caring citizens, and I truly believe that by casting such a wide net to catch violent gang members, we are in fact creating more criminals in the process.
In Boston, Police Commissioner Edward S. Davis said that his department focuses only on violent offenders now. The Times article quotes him as saying, “We clearly don’t participate in a wide net of arrests. What we’re trying to do is be very focused on those individuals who are actually shooting.” For that, I applaud him.