Tom Hayden on Gangs

Straight Outta BostonJanuary/February 2006 issue, Mother Jones

Tom Hayden writes:

The sincere and informative article on Los Angeles’ gangs by Daniel Duane
[“Straight Outta Boston,” January/February] ultimately derails itself like
so many efforts to address this city’s crisis in the streets. The author
promotes the Harvard-inspired, federally funded program, Operation Ceasefire, otherwise known as the “Boston Miracle,” as the “only anti-gang-violence
strategy that has ever worked against modern street gangs” and the model
that should be followed here. Rev. Eugene Rivers, the minister credited with
founding the program, did try to bring it to L.A. a few years ago. Rivers is
part of the black clergy network tied to the Bush administration and the
religious right, committed to “faith-based” alternatives to government
programs. Ultimately, a “Ten Point Coalition” based on the Boston model was
established at the West Angeles Church with federal funding. Its small staff
works hard on such programs as mentoring. But it is hardly the
all-encompassing “miracle” solution
suggested in your article.

The reason is not, as the article implies, the turf consciousness of the
police chief and sheriff. The sheer size of Los Angeles dwarfs the Boston
model, which was based in two small ghettos. Los Angeles has a “rainbow” of
Mexican and Central American immigrant gangs along with its black gangs. The
Boston model was limited to African American communities.
Operation Ceasefire also is a morally troubling and perhaps unconstitutional
approach. It says stop the violence (thus “ceasefire”) or else every alleged
member
of the alleged gang will face selective arrests on trivial, even trumped-up
charges.

These discriminatory enforcement measures are supposedly balanced by the
carrot of job-training services for jobs that simply have never
materialized.
Hello! Los Angeles already imposes this draconian justice through more gang
injunctions than the rest of American cities combined. Violence is thus
displaced to our overcrowded county jail, the largest in the country, where,
at this writing, race riots are in their 10th consecutive day. The author
ignores the most important lesson of the 1992 Los Angeles riots, after which
the heralded Watts truce between the Crips and Bloods held together. After
five years, the Los Angeles Times reported that “police and residents of
Watts confirm that gang-on-gang slayings over emotional issues of turf
boundaries
or gang clothing have virtually disappeared.” Yet your article cites a
Ceasefire advocate who claims there is no evidence as to whether the truce
was ever effective!

TOM HAYDEN
Author, Street Wars, Gangs and the Future of Violence (New Press, 2005)