Saturday, April 26, 2008


By Diana L. Chapman

The bit of luck that existed in the Harbor Area when it came to ugliness of gangs will soon be erased with our mayor’s latest and greatest plan – which is way too late and not that great.
Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa believes that if he transfers funds currently for gang prevention that exist here and other areas of the city –and filters it to twelve more distinct gangster-ridden neighborhoods with higher crime stats, he will be doing something really different that will work. He plans to hire 1,000 more officers, I guess to stomp the gangs out in those neighborhoods.
Well it’s not that different and it’s unlikely it will work.
First, I wish the mayor had to face Harbor Area victims and tell them that our area didn’t provide enough statistics to keep the money here. I’d like him to face:
a) My girlfriend who stumbled on her way home during rush hour in San Pedro into the brazen shooting in broad daylight of a 15-year-old on his front porch. My friend was desperately trying to reach his younger sister to get her out of the line of fire. While I can’t name my friend, I know one thing; she has not been the same since and makes sure she’s out of San Pedro before dark.
b) LaTerian Tasby, 17, a prominent football and basketball player, who died trying to protect his friends at an athlete’s party last October when gangsters crashed the party, carrying knives and guns and shouting racial slurs. They shot LaTerian in the chest. After all, the kid was an easy target, 6’ 7” inches, and someone who would fight to save his friends and who knows.
c) Cheryl Green, the 14-year-old gunned down in Harbor Gateway because she was black.
d) The six-year-old who was shot in the head in his parent’s van, when gang signs allegedly were flashed on both sides. Who cares who was in the gangs – all I care about is a six-year-old does not ever deserve to be shot.

What would the mayor say to these people? Sorry, the media just blew your story up so much – the neighborhood got a lot of hype it didn’t deserve. And how about it mayor? You sure were prancing around the cameras when Cheryl Green was killed during the big media blitz.

Our kids are dying in the streets – everywhere in this city – so why would you take away from one area to allegedly fix another. Historically, every time the police zero in on a region with a driving force to batter down gangs, the gangsters do one thing – they leave and move to areas left wide open..This is exactly what happened when the LAPD broke up Nickerson Gardens – and in fact – exactly what happened with the mafia in Sicily when the government cracked down in the late 1800s. Many mafia members upped and move to the U.S. Why not? It was a wide open territory.

Where an area has less police to mind the store and less programs to mind the kids, we become – like La Terian Tasby -- a giant to target.
I shake to think what will happen if the Toberman House loses so much funding they quit sending former gang members out in the streets to sooth the hostilities and prevent more gang killings.

Or what the Boys and Girls club will do when it’s budget plummets by up to $200,000. The club has discouraged kids from joining gangs with after school programs-- including encouraging kids who never thought they could go to college in a million years – do exactly that -- go to college.

In fact, more than 127 Boys and Girls club seniors have been accepted to colleges and are headed there this fall, with even more waiting in the wings for their acceptances.

But I fear all this will be swept away when the money gets sent to areas such as Watts, Hyde Park and Panorama City. Not that those areas don’t deserve the money, but what many local officials believe is that without the money here – gang crimes are only going to get worse.

Councilwoman Janice Hahn, who serves the Harbor Area, said she’s puzzled why more money isn’t used on diversions – primarily after school programs which time and time again are shown in studies to prove to be the best way to keep kids from gangs.

She's planning to put forward a multi-million intiative to the voters to establishes scores of after school programs throughout Los Angeles.

“We have to out recruit the gang members,” Janice said. “They are good at recruiting. They are there before school, during school and after school. It’s not rocket science. We’ve just given up and we have left our kids completely vulnerable to gang members.”

I too am a huge advocate of promoting after school programs – something I’ve worked on at Dana Middle School the last few years to keep the kids off the streets, out of gangs, far from drugs and to help them find their interests.

Meeting with some success, about ten of us were allowed to show the mayor’s staff
Dana’s pilot program. The model could be done anywhere, as it draws from a variety of sources, including police, parents, businesses, community members and nearby community organizations.

The mayor’s staff let us in the door and -- at the time -- offered for us to come back. But that door, no matter how many calls or emails, was not reopened. The Dana program only keeps scores of kids off the streets and helps them reprogram that – yes – they are worthwhile! They are smart! They are talented! They can bring their grades up!

Kids can change on a dime given the right set of circumstances unlike the parents that the mayor’s office told me need to be reached and changed first. Well, good luck changing the heroine addicted parents, the gangster parents, the single mom with six kids to feed who is just trying to keep everyone alive. It's not realistic. It's tough to teach an old dog new tricks.

But a young dog – that’s another story.

I’d rather pour all my efforts into the youngsters – who no matter what you say – still have a chance to make it if the right person, right program, right college bound effort, right talent is dropped into their lives.

I’ve witnessed it myself many times. A girl who wrote that she lived like “Cinderella,” raised her brother and sister, and lived a routine of social workers and police storming her house – was recently interviewed by both Pepperdine and Harvard. Shortly, she will be off to a UC school with future plans to become a judge. That happened – and only happened – because one of these programs captured her heart. In this case, it was the College Bound program.

Or how about Dana’s basketball coach, who runs a club where no kid can be turned away. Derrick Smith not only teaches the intense discipline of the sport – but watches over their grades.
“I’ve learned so much about basketball,” wrote one 13-year-old boy. “Coach has taught us we could become anything that we want to be. He also taught us to reach for the sky. It also keeps kids off the streets who might be doing bad things if they didn’t have this basketball club. I respect the coach as an idol and a father figure.”

We need parents to volunteer. We need more coaches who can look past the athlete and into the heart of a kid. We need community leaders to step up and help shore up after school activities – in particular at middle schools where kids still have a much bigger chance to change.

And we need the mayor to realize the damage he's about to do for our area.

If the rest of us don't pick up after the cuts, it makes it just that much easier for gangs to pick our kids off the tree as easily as a piece of fruit ready to fall.

In essence, the mayor hasn't done the Harbor Area kids a single favor -- but when we have another killing with a lot of hype, I suspect the mayor will be back, smiling that wide grin for the cameras.