Such is the case with Assembly Bill 128 by Assemblyman Mervyn Dymally, D-Compton, which would establish a pilot program initiating anti-gang activities in schools as early as elementary and middle school grades in Oakland and two other California cities.
Sad though it is to contemplate extending anti-gang intervention to ages as young as 9, Dymally and others believe its necessary because of the growth of gangs and their efforts to lure or force ever-younger children to join them.
Jasmyne Cannick, a Dymally aide, says, Were finding we need to start in elementary school. Junior high isnt early enough.
Hillary McClean, spokeswoman for Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack OConnell, added, Preventing gang activity and stopping violence (at an early age) is a better (and easier) approach than trying to stop it once it has started.
Gangs are a growing problem, as witnessed by the cities forming the California Cities Gang Prevention Network that met in Oakland this week to discuss prevention, intervention and enforcement strategies. Ten years ago, there were 150 gang members in Oakland, now there are at least 1,500. Thirty-eight percent of the citys 148 homicides in 2006 were attributed to Latino gang rivalries.
Under Dymallys bill, schools in Compton and Ingelwood would join Oakland schools as sites for alternative education, counseling and anti-gang services as early as the fourth grade and for students 9 to 13 years olds. If successful and there is funding such pilot programs could be extended to other cities with youth gang problems.
Anti-gang efforts also need to extend beyond the classroom. They should provide alternative after-school activities and long-term help as well. Community service programs need to include vocational training as well as academic education, tutoring, recreation, arts and social lessons projects that remove children from the street-gang environment and introduce them to the alternatives life can offer.
Communities that find such preventive programs useful also need to make a commitment to fund and perpetuate successful anti-gang ventures. Part of the problem with sustaining such efforts is that funding and support dry up and once-successful programs cease to exist. Unfortunately, that often leaves a void that gangs fill, especially in neighborhoods where people are poorer and devoid of many amenities and opportunities that more fortunate children take for granted.
Youngsters, including the children of recent immigrants, are often recruited or forced into gang activities at early ages. Programs that counter such efforts in and out of school need to give youngsters hope that they can avoid such situations and achieve a better life.
We support trying pilot programs such as Dymallys. He has certainly chosen three challenging cities in which to address gang and violence problems.
Whether major successes or merely helpful, such programs can be expanded and tried in other cities and neighborhoods where there is a proven need. But its essential they have community support that increases the prospect that such an experiment will be funded and continued. Without that commitment, and sufficient resources, pilot programs end up as little more than another ill-fated attempt that failed.