FINALLY….SOME GOOD NEWS
Yesterday I was critical of what appeared to be one more gang report, this one ordered by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors. Like most gang policy watchers—I’d reached a state of near apoplexy regarding the plethora of expensive reports, and the absolute dearth of real action resulting from them. Thus I found the idea of one more plan/report/audit entirely maddening.
But after I posted I got an email from attorney Susan Lee from the Advancement Project who told me very nicely that I’d gotten it wrong. This wasn’t just another report at all, Lee wrote, but a set of specific recommendations designed to get LA County to actually take some of the steps that we’ve be clamoring for.
Here’s the deal: One of the things that all the previous reports have made clear is that the only long term solution to LA’s gang violence is to change the community ecology in which the gangs exist. To put it another way, if we really want to get the upper hand on gang violence in a given area we have to change everything: the schools, access to services, the mental and emotional health of the families, the neighborhood. And we have to add new elements to the mix: mentoring, jobs, parenting classes, mental health treatment, youth development sites that feature recreation, arts, job training, and sports….and on and on.
Do we have the money or the organizational wherewithal to make those kinds of changes in LA’s poorest and most gang-fraught communities? Of course not. At least, not right now. (We can’t manage to get our urban schools to work. for God’s sake.)
BUT, what we can do-–as Susan pointed out when we talked later in the afternoon—is to “lay the tracks” for such an endeavor, and from there make changes by increments, but with an uber strategy in mind—instead of the ineffective piecemeal chaos we’ve got now. (That last was my phrasing, not hers.)
It sounds daunting. Okay, it is daunting. But the County plan awaiting approval is designed to pick out several “demonstration sites,” do a comprehensive “needs assessment” in those communities, and then get to work. Once the Board of Sups gives the go-ahead, the ball will begin rolling.
The idea is not without precedent. Probably the closest existing analogue is the Harlem Children’s Zone project in New York which aims to blanket all the kids in a particular low income area with tightly linked services throughout their childhoods into young adulthood, and thus change their ability and opportunity to succeed.
There will be no overnight miracles. This is an in-it-for-the-long-haul deal. And, as Susan said, given the fiscal realities, in the next year everybody’ll be mostly be laying track.
One small reason to be hopeful here is the fact that LA’s most essential players have bought in to the plan and have agreed on the broad strokes planning—namely Chief Bratton, Sheriff Baca, LAUSD’s David Brewer, Jeff Carr from the mayor’s office, Connie Rice, plus the big county health agencies and more.
It is also cheering that LA County CEO Bill Fujioka (the former LA City CAO) is the person chosen to integrate the best elements of past reports and form them into plan of action. Fujioka is an extremely smart dude who is very skillful at finding the hidden money lurking in any given budget and “re-prioritizing” it to meet a pressing need.
Alright, here’s the bottom line: While City Hall remains bogged down in turf battles, the main players have clustered around the County figuring it was the place they might cut through the crap and get something going.
With any luck, a month from now, that’s exactly what will happen.