Tuesday, January 30, 2007


In December Superior Court Judge Joan Weber implored Oceanside’s Mesa Margarita residents to stand up against the gang violence that is ruining their community. Five days later Officer Dan Bessant was shot and killed during a traffic stop in that same neighborhood. Two alleged gang members have been charged with the crime.

This month the county District Attorney is seeking injunctions that would expand the size of Escondido’s anti-gang “safety zones” and increase the number of gang members subject to various activity, association, and dress restrictions.

Judge Weber’s cri de coeur is understandable. Yet it’s as unlikely to change the situation on the ground as Peter Finch’s famous “I’m as mad as hell” rant in the movie “Network.” By contrast, the anti-gang injunctions that civil libertarians decry have had some success—as when these measures were instituted in Oceanside in the late 90s.

But what is the remedy for Los Angeles, home to an estimated 700 gangs with 40,000 members? There gang-related crime increased 14 percent last year—while crime citywide fell. Meanwhile, gang-related crime jumped 42% in the San Fernando Valley.

It’s ironic that “big picture” folks are so willing to play small-ball when it comes to explaining the proliferation of gangs. More federal dollars for law enforcement and a few education programs is about all they come up with. Anyone seriously interested in the “big picture” should consider these three factors: family structure, popular culture, and illegal immigration.

Gangs are family surrogates that take the place of intact homes. When more than two-thirds of black children in America, and one-third of all children, are born out of wedlock, the number of young males desperately looking for someone to show them what it means to be a man is substantial.

Furthermore, these youngsters find in the popular culture numerous “artists” who glamorize gangbanging as the route to “respect” in a presumably hostile and racist society. Instead of encouraging kids to rise above their circumstances or cast down their buckets where they are, the Hollywood bling crowd promotes low-riding pants, tattoos, attitude, and street-cred. Poor government-monopoly schools reinforce these low aspirations.

Thirdly, illegal immigrants and their children are susceptible to the blandishments of gangs because their ties to the country in which they now live are tenuous and their educational prospects dim. It’s hard to feel a part of a society whose language and culture is different from your own and whose laws you and your friends are daily violating. Accordingly, Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute has noted that many powerful gangs in Southern California are composed mostly of illegals.

Unfortunately, instead of recognizing the crucial role played by intact families, we pretend that marriage doesn’t matter. Instead of vilifying rappers and their corporate sponsors, elites tout these pimps as authentic voices. And instead of taking immigration laws seriously, politicians erect a wall of separation between INS and local police. No wonder cities are reduced to defensive tactics and judges to pathetic pleas in the face of gang violence.

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