ACLU Crime and Punishment Gangs Prison Policy

Gangs, Arnold and Playing Politics


On Friday, Arnold Schwarzenegger unveiled a “sweeping new” $48 million dollar gang plan.
(I love sweeping new plans, don’t you?) The plan comes complete with lots of “cracking down” (Yawn, been there….over and over and over again), some gee-whiz gadgetry in the form of satellite electronic tracking devices to be strapped on the ankles of truly bad gang members, and….the new must-have accessory for all 2007 gang crack downs: A GANG CZAR.

It’s not that I don’t think a gang czar is a good idea, it’s that the chances of getting someone who has the breadth of knowledge and experience to genuinely problem solve in the arena of gang violence are….well, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on it. Plus, in order for them to have a prayer of being even slightly effective, said Czar would need some real control and authority. This is likely to happen….let’s see, what’s the term I’m looking for? Oh, yeah. Never. Given what Arnold is suggesting now, it appears to be one step above a vanity position—in other words, another committee head.

Since, the state is facing a $3 billion budget shortfall, it’s unclear where the $48 million is actually going to will come from anyway. Plus the democrats, quite rightly said that the plan has virtually nothing planned for prevention and intervention, that it’s mostly a strategy to beef up law enforcement.

And in a sop to the CCPOA-–the prison guards’ union—Arnold wants to add 70 new corrections officers to try to do something about the prison gangs that all but run certain of the state’s correctional institutions. (And they will do what exactly, to accomplish this?) Unfortunately, this seems emblematic of the governor’s approach to most criminal justice issues in the state: build more prisons; hire more guards.

The state, like the city of Los Angeles, has very real gang problems that call for the will and the willingness to craft the kind of comprehensive and creative approach that we have yet to see come out of either city or state leadership. Connie Rice’s Advancement Project report pointed the way to the kind of thinking necessary to get started. Yet it has all but been ignored.

Instead we get new “sweeping plans” that look a lot like old sweeping plans—or, as they say in Texas, all hat and no cattle. Politics as usual.


  • I’m having trouble making this metaphor work… Maybe Woody can clarify it for me?

    “Seem like, as they stay in taxes, All hat and no cattle. Politics as usual.”

    Or, should this read, Seems like they say in Texas, All hat and no cattle?

    Anyway. Maybe the object isn’t to actually do something, as much as make it look as though something is being done. I have no idea how to ‘solve’ a problem like gangs. I’m not sure there is a single solution for gangs. G-Dog is a unique person, and maybe you’d need a couple thousand of him to do the one-on-one intervention that might make a difference. Or, you’d need a dozen more unions, and the jobs to match, willing to actively recruit as was previously highlighted here and the LATimes.

    I make no claim to ‘understanding’ the allure of gangs, or the function gang membership is supposed to offer otherwise disaffected youth/young adults. I’m not even sure I understand the notion of disaffection. But, I don’t doubt the phenomena. Or, the destruction to the civil fabric and individual lives. I understand the degradation of a single life that spirals downward. I don’t understand a culture that makes it a ‘community’ effort.

    Maslow argued for a basic human drive for social belonging. Maybe it’s really that simple. It’s obvious that the Elks Lodge wouldn’t hold any attraction for kids that join gangs, and the ‘cool’ factor would have to be a part of it, perhaps. Or, is it more the ‘economic model’ of the mafia? Or, some combination of the two. It takes a bigger brain than mine to comprehend it.

  • Coincidentally, Bob Herbert has a column in the NY Times today entitled, Small Incidents Are Creating a Big Problem With the N.Y.P.D. Reads like something I’d expect to find in the LA Times. While the article is behind a paywall, there seems to be this tacit approval around the web to excerpt from them. Picking off a couple of highlights:

    “These are small incidents, but they are accumulating by the tens of thousands, and someday New Yorkers are going to be shocked by the power of the anger that these seemingly insignificant incidents have generated….

    … Several students from Bushwick Community High were among the three dozen or so who were swept up by the cops last week as they were walking toward a subway station on their way to a wake for a teenage friend who had been murdered. For black and Hispanic youngsters, grieving can be a criminal offense.

    … One of those arrested was 16-year-old Lamel Carter, the son of a police detective. I interviewed him after he had spent a night in jail….

    … He was just another black kid (now with a brand-new arrest record) on the streets of Brooklyn. No big deal. Just one of hundreds of similar stops each day….

    … One of the youngsters arrested while trying to attend the wake was Aliek Robinson, a 17-year-old who had come up from Baltimore. He had known the slain youth… whose nickname was Freshh, since he was 6 years old. …

    …“After we got arrested, the cops were questioning us one by one,” he said. “This one cop had a smile on his face and he said, ‘Your man, Freshh, he was babbling like a little girl when he died.’ And then he started giggling. I don’t know why he said that. He didn’t have to say that.”…

    … The important thing to remember here is that this behavior, in neighborhoods where the majority of the residents are black and Hispanic, is often the norm. This is not unusual police behavior. There is a huge percentage of cops on patrol whose knee-jerk approach to policing is to treat all young blacks and Hispanics as potential criminals….

    … All high-ranking public officials in the city are aware of what is going on. …

    The two individuals most responsible for this sorry state of affairs are Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly. All it would take is a directive from them to bring the ugly harassment under control….

    A big gang problem has quietly developed in New York, and there are fears in the neighborhoods of a troubled summer. The response to this very serious situation should not be to treat all kids like criminals, which is both wrong and self-defeating…. ”

    Sound familiar?

  • Arrrgghhh. Clearly posting too late at night. My kingdom for a proofreader. Yeah, that would be….uh…”Texas”…Not “taxes.” It’s fixed now.

    Thanks, Listener, and also for flagging the Herbert column. This is so much what has been going on for years in certain pockets of LA with too many cops. And it’s hard to convince even command staff of the pervasiveness of it—and of the damage it does to all concerned.

  • Proofreader’s review: (a) $48 MILLION…not billion, as stated in the second reference. (b) SAY in Texas…not “stay.” While corrected, many liberals slobber over the word “taxes” so much that they used it in error other times. (c) It’s nice to see you spell Democrats with the lower case d, since they are so low.

    Maybe we could have gang members register themselves like illegal immigrants do. Then trust them to voluntarily stay on their side of the fence.

    And, what happened to the 100,000 police that Clinton hired? Oh, did he only fund them long enough for political opportunity?

    Transfer some of the gang SOB’s to federal prisons under the RICO Act.

    When all else fails, call me.

  • If gangs are symptom of society’s ills, then the United States has become very sick over the last 40 years. This cultural disintegration has primarily been induced by huge increase in fatherless families. Most gang members grew up without a father in the household.

    Fatherless households have risen: 6% in 1972, 16% in 1992, 21% in 2005 and
    70% in 2007 for gang members (boys growing up in mother only families naturally seek male influences)

    What is the cause of fatherless households?
    a) The link between welfare and out-of-wedlock births is overwhelming
    b) Welfare discourages the mother from marrying in the future
    c) Breakdown of cultural norms and shame.

    Today’s young girls do not even link marriage and children, it does not occur to them that having children outside marriage.

    Fathers have become viewed as optional to parenting, kind of like a sunroof on a car, nice but not really necessary.

    Boys from a female headed household have a:
    a) 60 per cent greater chance of committing rape
    b) 75 per cent greater chance of committing murder.

    “The relationship between single-parent families and crime is so strong that controlling for family configuration erases the relationship between race and crime and between low income and crime.” – Atlantic Monthly.

    “Men and women are different!” — Fathers teach their boys how to control their aggression and show their boys how to relate and respect their mothers.
    Father’s provide their daughter’s greater self-esteem, confidence and restraint.

    What can be done to promote marriage and fatherhood?
    1) Add financial incentives to get married and stay married.
    2) Teach marriage in school. (if you can teach sex???)
    3) Make out of wedlock births punitive in some benign way.
    4) Encourage marriage financially for single mothers and fathers.
    5) Add a marriage bonus to the tax code

    The root cause of most crime, gangs and violence – “The American broken family”.

  • I hear the echoes of Daniel Moynihan in your comment Pokey. Thanks for the stats. Isn’t there an aphorism somewhere… Men socialize men, and women civilize them… Or, something like that. When it comes to gangs, it would seem both pieces are missing.

    There was a thread about out of wedlock births in our local newspaper relative to a story about the same. A teacher in one of the local schools noted that junior high aged girls openly solicit sex from male classmates with the *intent* of getting pregnant, as per the notes she’d intercepted in class. Their notes apparently made that intention explicit. Without wanting to cast doubt on her claim, over the course of a couple of days, I asked her about it. One of the really outrageous anecdotal numbers she gave me was that it seemed to her about 60% of the girls who solicited sex this way were in fact pregnant before they left high school. It did not seem to have the characteristics of an ‘urban myth,’ or of kids wanting to ‘act cool.’ Pretty amazing to me.

  • Just what we need. Promise keepers in all the hoods. Good grief!

    I’ll let you in a little secret. Know why the poor are poor? They don’t have any money. We used to have Irish, Jewish and Italian gangs. Then they got jobs, got educations and, hey! Presto! no more gangs.

    (Yeah I know – the “Westies” and LCN but they’re not typical of the groups and I don’t a bunch of “Sopranos” wannabees running around sporting “Colors.”)

  • “They make bad decisions.”

    George Will wrote a column several years ago. I don’t often (hardly ever?) agree with George Will. But, I was taken by his premise of a bad decision begetting (pardon the biblical turn of phrase) another bad decision. His argument, IIRC, was that a sequence of bad decisions narrowed the set of available choices to only those with little or no option value – or, more bad decisions. And, this cascade of poor choices, ultimately crowding out the availability of good choices, was ‘typical’ of the poor.

    There is the old economic maxim, ignore sunk costs, which has different names in different disciplines, but, whatever it’s called, I suspect every successful person has learned to walk away from a poor choice and change direction. Some believe that ‘the poor’ simply fail in their ability to cut their losses; perhaps, consequent of emotional factors (stubbornness, pride, denial). Others argue that ‘the poor’ have a short term time rate of preference, or an inability to delay gratification. Since the choice is individual in nature, it seems logical to assign the deficit in decision making to the person making the choice. It was after all, their choice.

    But, we all make poor choices. Every one of us has at least one choice we could have made differently in our life histories, and been better off for it. The question is why that first poor choice didn’t lead to additional poor choices, the magnitude or ‘poor-ness’ increasing with each next choice? Were we able to ‘buy’ our way out of the first poor choice; be the currency dollars, social links, emotional strength, spiritual reserves, sheer smarts, or accrued wisdom? Or, is it the magnitude of ‘poor-ness’ of the first choice that makes a difference? That first real whopper sets the standard for those which follow by wiping off the table all of the alternatives that their first choice made moot? Or, is it that the available currency to buy ones way out has to be equal in magnitude to that of the first poor choice, and the poor lacked sufficient ‘funds’ to match that first choice?

    While I can’t fault Will’s premise of cascading poor choices, and my personal experience supports the ‘truth’ of emotional immaturity and short term planning horizons which contribute to the cascade, those explanations don’t suggest a solution. What are the options for ‘the poor’ to push the reset button all of us have made use of at one time or another?

  • There will all ways be poor. But as a society, we should provide opportunities and incentives for individuals to better themselves, which benefits all society.

    Certainly, promoting a traditional family organization is one simple way for government to reduce poverty and improve the lives of children.

    But, the left is aghast at the suggestion that a traditional family is BETTER (98% of the time) than a POORER single parent family.

    Imagine teaching in the schools that marriage is the BEST way to raise children. Currently this information is kept from our children, by fools who care more about sensitivity than results.

  • I don’t disagree with you Pokey. I’d even be okay with teaching ‘marriage’ in school, as well as existence and difficulties imposed by marital dysfunctions. Although, I wonder who would be qualified to teach it – but that’s a different discussion.

    What I’m trying to wrestle with now, is the current population of youth/young adults, who are poor – or currently live in poverty, and are perhaps products of single parent homes. I expect we can agree – and then set aside the idea – that not all kids of single family homes live in poverty or are destined to make poor choices. And, even some kids living in single parent homes, but living in poverty, still seem able to make good choices, even if they’ve made previous poor ones. But we have this whole crop of kids who are poor, who have only a single (perhaps, dysfunctional) parent, who seem destined to make an array of poor choices, that, like credit card debt, could be very difficult for them to reverse.

    Capitalism offers both a carrot and a stick; it enforces the notion that it’s not nice to be poor (the stick), and that’s fair as long as the opportunity to not be poor (the carrot) isn’t closed off by institutional constraints (the qualifier). We’ve made progress with the qualifiers. And, there are those who argue that, in the case of the black community, one of the biggest obstacles to success is the mindset of that community. [Being white, I leave that alone. To my way of thinking, that’s for the ‘insiders’ to say to each other, lest all I do is invite a defensive resistance.]

    I had lunch once with an Israeli ‘head mistress’ who made the argument the only solution for these at risk kids was a kibbutz. I think she was suggesting a social/cultural re-parenting of sorts. I had a lot of trouble with the idea; individual liberty and all. But I had a hard time arguing against her. Is that really the best we can offer? And, do we even have the skills to build anything more than one more institutional setting that reinforces poor-ness?

  • What I have found so disturbing is that most inner city girls do not link marriage and children and consider babies assets and property, which you are paid by the government to grow.

    These girls usually do not set out to get pregnant, but most do have several children with several different men before age 20.

  • LotS, I beleive that non-captialistic nations have a higher percentage of poor than do we. Anyway, here’s a lesson on decision-making for all of us.

    Someone once asked a successful businessman the secret to his success.

    “Making good decisions,” was his quick reply.

    “How did you learn to make good decisions,” came another question.

    “From experience.”

    “And where does experience come from?

    “BAD decisions.”

  • Pokey, I’ve read those same reports. And, it’s not just inner city girls; suburban girls, and rural girls aren’t fully exempt. I’ve read these stories where tween and teen girls are given this pre-programmed life-like doll to carry with them, and the doll is pretty much pre-programmed to make their lives as nearly uncomfortable as a real baby would. Many of the girls turn that ‘baby’ in before their time is up. It’s just runs them ragged. That teacher I spoke of before, said that, in her experience, teen pregnancy had a predictable social trajectory. The teen mother would come to school, cradling her infant. All her fiends would gather round to fuss and coo. The teen mother got a lot of initial attention. However, as the infant grew and became more demanding, and the mother’s former friends became more involved with their own lives and interests, the teen mother found herself with a handful of a toddler, no friends, no age appropriate activities, and regretting – if not outright resenting – her choice. Romantic notions and maternal hormones only carry one so far. (For me, five younger siblings – the youngest by 13 years was enough, thank you! Talked me out of the whole darned project.) I suppose for some of these girls, having a baby was the last ‘successful’ thing that they did. Ergo, repeat what you know?

  • Woody, I don’t disagree. I wasn’t faulting capitalism for the existence of the poor. I actually tried to make the case that capitalism provides an incentive for not being poor. And, it was a pretty good mechanism providing there weren’t obstacles to opportunity imbedded in its institutional constructs.

    As for learning from bad decisions. Hey, I got a PhD from the school of Oops, That Was Stupid! But my question has to do with, What did it cost to reverse course? And, What happens if you don’t have the remittance? If we back away with little more than, Shure sucks to be you, all we have done is to consign that person to being an object lesson for everyone else.

  • Very interesting and worthwhile discussion Listener and Pokey. Thanks for all your good thoughts. Listner, I’ve never heard the term “cascading poor choices,” but it’s exactly right. I think it’s generally hard for those of us who begin the game on a very different economic/class/familial playing field, to feel into the reality of how insistent that cascading momentum can become.

    Pokey, I quite agree. In all my years reporting on gangs, I’ve rarely seen a guy deep in the gang life who had an active, available dad. There are exceptions to this rule, but not a lot of ’em. The absence of males in the raising of young men in the poorest of the inner city communities is nothing short of a catastrophe.

    As for the diagnosis of why this occurs so regularly….I’d hesitate to start laying it at the feet of welfare. That’s an old conservative trope that’s been pretty much disabused. (Which is not to say that it isn’t often a factor, but in looking at the whole, it’s one of many.)

    A year or so back, Ms. Magazine asked me to review a study (that had been turned into a book) dealing with the question of why so many poor women have babies without getting married. I was pleasantly surprised to find the study to be quite brilliant, and likely the best thing out there—at least at the time. For one thing, the two researchers seemed to be about the only academics who actually went out and talked to bunches of unmarried mothers, rather than just tabulating numbers.

    (BTW, in the end, I’m afraid Ms. wasn’t thrilled with my analysis of the study as it didn’t conform with some whacked out retro-feminist agenda they had. It seems my POV was more….you know….reality based, which they found “depressing.”)

    For what it’s worth, here’s the link to what was published:

    (It’s somewhat watered down from what I originally wrote, but is relatively free of the weird moments in fact-interpretation Ms. wanted me to insert. As I imagine you can tell, me and Elie Smeal aren’t, at present, real high on each other’s Christmas card lists.)

  • Millions of undisciplined dogs
    The study referred above of young unwed mothers makes my point about marriage.

    These women’s government induced decisions are destroying our society, because their actions which temporally improves their lives, is ripping our society apart.

    It is like millions of undisciplined dogs, let loose in our neighborhoods. Sure there are exceptions, which we all admire, but our jails are full of the un-exceptional offspring of these women.

    They feared marriage as a “loss of control” that would transform their men into autocratic decision-makers. Why would a woman want to share decision making or depend on man for anything when you can depend on the government financially for everything and answer to no one.

    “[Poor] women consider marriage a luxury” When it safer financially to be single mother, then to be married without children, then marriage will always be considered a luxury.

    For poor women, it’s motherhood, not husbands or work, that’s the primary signifier of personal success and emotional fulfillment. While children are assets and cash is paid monthly for each additional baby, this will not change.

  • “… insistent cascading momentum …” (Celeste) and, “You don’t risk more than you can afford to lose.” (Woody). There’s a key in there somewhere, but I don’t see it yet. Going to have to give that one the old “atmoshpheric soak” (my Dad). Thanks for your thoughts everyone.

  • LotS, my short comment was a cumulative response to you and Celeste, particularly to your comment: But my question has to do with, What did it cost to reverse course? And, What happens if you don’t have the remittance?

    Stupid people get cars that they can’t afford, have children with no dads and no money, drink and use drugs even though that makes them penniless and drives them to crime, buy incredible numbers of lottery tickets, don’t show up on time for needed jobs, ….

    Don’t make major changes in life or take chances if you cannot afford the costs or afford the losses. Your dad would understand.

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