Crips, Bloods and Laura Bush

President Bush wasted no time in dispatching his newly designated gangbuster, wife Laura, to the mean streets of Philadelphia. That city, like other big cities, continues to be plagued by gang killings. Laura's mission, as Bush made it clear in his State of the Union speech, is to help halt that violence. In addition to tapping Laura as his gang czar, Bush says that he'll shell out $150 million to youth education and violence prevention programs. But in the past, Bush's flashy, new initiatives, unveiled with much public fanfare, have fizzled out due to lack of money, lack of political will to push them through or lack of practicality. Bush's gang initiative may suffer the same fate.

The money will be spread out over three years. That adds up to about $1 million for each state. That paltry sum will barely buy hoops for one inner city youth recreation center. That is, if the money is ever appropriated. Bush has said that he will meat ax dozens of federal programs to cut the mountainous federal deficit that he created by piling on billions to wage war and reconstruction in Iraq, and his disastrous tax cuts that mostly benefit the corporate rich. The dollars would be dribbled out to Bush's pet faith-based groups to push his morals and values message.

But increased dollars, Laura's inner-city treks, and Bush's moral finger wag, will do little to stop the killing. Many of the young men that tuck guns in their waistbands and shoot-up their neighborhoods 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, violence-laced rap songs also reinforce the deep feeling among many youth that life is cheap and easy to take, and there will be minimal consequences for their actions 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 youth 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 drive-by shootings 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 that inner city streets are depraved war zones.

It's not just drugs and hopelessness that drive young men, especially young black men, to kill and dodge bullets. The huge state and federal cutbacks in job training and skills programs, the brutal competition for low- and semi-skilled service and retail jobs from immigrants, and the refusal of many employers to hire those with criminal records have sledgehammered black communities. The unemployment rate of young black males is double, and in some parts of the country, triple that of white males. Their high unemployment rate is made worse by Bush's retrograde tax cuts and budget slashes.

The high number of miserably failing inner-city public schools also fuels the unemployment crisis. They have turned thousands of blacks into educational cripples. These students are desperately unequipped to handle the rapidly evolving and demanding technical and professional skills in the public sector and the business world of the 21st century. The educational meltdown has seeped into the colleges. According to an American Council of Education report, in the past decade Latino, Asian and black female student enrollment has soared while black male enrollment has slowed down.

There's no magic formula for stopping the violence, and Bush's plan is certainly not that formula either. Federal and state officials must drastically increase funds for violence prevention and gang intervention programs. They must call on educators, health professionals, drug counselors and gang intervention activists to devise and provide the crucial resources for more programs to keep at risk youth off the streets. The Congressional Black Caucus and Congressional Democrats must continue to relentlessly challenge the Bush administration and corporations to do more to end discrimination and create more job and training opportunities for young blacks.

These measures won't make the Crips and Bloods disappear. But they'll do much more than photo-ops at the White House, inner-city jaunts and empty pocketbook promises.

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