Los Angeles -- America's Murder Capitol?
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The murder surge in Los Angeles caused some crime watchers to make the grim prediction that the city could cop the horrendous title of murder capitol of the nation. While it's premature to say that, the violence has stirred anguish and anger among community residents. They implore police and city officials to do something, and do it fast, to stop the violence. City officials have reacted to their plea by fingering gangs as the culprits behind the murders.
At last count there were about 20 or so identifiable gangs in South L.A., and they do wreak much mayhem and murder on city and valley streets. City officials have tried to pack more gang members into jail cells through gang injunctions. The problem is that it often takes months for the courts to approve injunctions. The time lapse gives gangs the deadly window they need to do their dirty work.
But even with tough, enforced gang injunctions, the gang surge is likely to get worse. The flood of ex-felons that are being released from California prisons will almost certainly beef up their numbers. The disbanding of the LAPD's scandal plagued anti-gang CRASH unit didn't help matters. Despite the allegations of abuse, corruption, and the indictments of several officers in the unit, many credit it with keeping a lid on gang violence.
While more arrests, prosecutions, injunctions, and stiffer prison sentences for gang members are certainly crucial to blunting some of the carnage, they aren't enough. California already locks up more three strikes offenders than the other states that have similar repeat offender laws on their books put together.
Many of those who tuck guns in their waistbands and shoot up their neighborhoods hardly flinch at the prospect of doing a long stretch in prison if caught. There are troubling reasons why they have no fear of jail, death, and being universally reviled as cowards, predators and, of late, urban terrorists. Many actual or wanna-be gang members feel that no one cares whether they live or die. Their belief that their lives are devalued fosters disrespect for the law and forces them to internalize anger and displace aggression onto others.
Many of them, mostly young black and Latino males, have become especially adept at acting out their frustrations at white society's denial of their "manhood" by adopting an exaggerated "tough guy" role. They swagger, boast, curse, fight and commit violent self-destructive acts. The accessibility of drugs, and guns, and the influence of misogynist, violent-laced rap songs also reinforces the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their action as long as their victims are other young blacks or Latinos. And as long as the attackers regard their victims as weak, vulnerable, and easy pickings they will continue to kill and maim with impunity.
The other powerful ingredient in the deadly mix of black and Latino violence is the drug plague. Drug trafficking not only provides illicit profits but also makes the gun play even more widespread. Gang members use their arsenals to fend off attacks, protect their profits from hostile predators, and to settle scores with rivals. Many of the recent shootings of have been directly traced to busted drug deals, and competition over markets and disputes over turf. Often innocent victims are caught in gang shoot-outs, thus further fortifying the conviction of suburban whites that South-Central L.A. is a depraved war zone.
Enraged citizens want the LAPD to mobilize even bigger armies of police on the streets, and launch search and destroy missions against gang targets. But this is tough to do. LAPD officials are waging their own frantic battle not only to get more officers, but also to keep the ones they have. They are scratching and clawing to get every penny they can to build new and upgrade old building facilities and outmoded communications systems. On top of that, LAPD officials are now compelled to devote even more of their paper-thin resources and personnel to implement reforms mandated under the Justice Department's consent decree.
There's no magic formula for stopping the violence. However, there are some immediate actions Mayor James Hahn and the L.A. city council can and must take. They must beef up foot and bicycle patrols in those areas that have been hit hardest by the violence. They must drastically increase funds for violence prevention and gang intervention programs. They must call an emergency summit and bring together educators, health professionals, drug counselors, gang intervention activists to devise and provide the crucial resources for more job, skills training, education, drug treatment and prevention programs for at risk youth.
These measures won't entirely end all the violence, but they will help to curb the carnage, and get at some of the root causes of inner city violence. And that should be more than enough to ensure that L.A. doesn't wear America's murder capital crown.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and columnist. Visit his news and opinion Web site: www.thehutchinsonreport.com He is the author of "The Crisis in Black and Black" (Middle Passage Press).