Gang Outreach or Just Enforcing the Law: Chicago, LA, Atlanta

Will Atlanta be the next Chicago or L.A.? Those cities have been shelling out big bucks to “ex-gang members” and holding summits and negotiating with gangsters rather than prosecuting them.

Imagine the impact this must have in communities where these thugs live, where they now draw paychecks because they are/were thugs, and walk the streets empowered by their special relationships to certain politicians.  How does that not teach children the value of going bad?

Predictably, the people drawing paychecks from these programs declare them a complete success, while, jarringly, also insisting that if the money doesn’t stop coming, the killings will start again.  Think about that for a moment: do gang prevention programs just create a new ways for gangs to shake people down?  Meanwhile, despite the purported success of these programs, the body count keeps growing:

A 15-year-old Chicago girl who was shot in the head outside her Far South Side home Wednesday as she shielded a younger relative from gunfire has come through surgery, a relative said this morning.

And in L.A.:

The gang member accused of murdering a local high school football player will face the death penalty, prosecutors announced Wednesday. . .

Espinoza, an 18th Street gang member and illegal immigrant, had been released from jail on a firearms charge the day before Shaw was killed.

So what would have kept 17-year old Jamiel Shaw from being killed?

  • A fiscally unaccountable, money-hemorrhaging program with a fancy name that pays politically-connected ministers to “pastor walk” the streets (as Mayor Franklin is proposing), or a policy of not releasing offenders caught with guns prior to their convictions?
  • A “gang negotiation” program that pays thugs who pretend to have gone clean (and later it turns out they haven’t, even when powerful politicians get snowed by them), or sentencing laws that take thugs off the street for significant periods of time when they get caught with guns?

I worked in the world of non-profits and community outreach for a long time, and that is precisely why I’m so cynical about gang summits and pastor walks.  We already spend billions on this stuff, and there is little untainted evidence that it does anything but enrich the non-profits themselves and feed the machines of local politicians.

I’m always amazed when people say to me: “why don’t we do more to reach out to delinquents and help them get jobs and other services they need, instead of throwing them in jail and throwing away the key?”

Well, to answer the first part of the question, we already do, and to answer the second part, that is precisely what we don’t do, even though it would save lives.

Do readers have any idea how much is already spent doing social services, and to what little effect?  The city, county, state, and Federal Department of Justice (DOJ) already directs billions of your dollars into job training and outreach and gang prevention and social service programs  — as Stephanie Ramage details in this excellent article about money spent on Atlanta’s Vine City, and the dubious results:

[M]oney is not the area’s primary problem.  According to Ivory Lee Young, who represents them on the Atlanta City Council, English Avenue and Vine City get more government money than any other neighborhoods in Atlanta. They have received more than $23 million in public funding in recent years. . .There’s the Parcel 25 Trust Fund, which takes a small percentage of earnings from the Courtyard at Maple apartment development and reinvests it in Vine City. . . There’s the Urban Residential Finance Authority (URFA), which has shelled out more than $10 million to the area over the past 20 years. . . The Westside Tax Allocation District (TAD), managed by the Atlanta Development Authority, also includes both neighborhoods. On Aug. 17, it made $2.8 million available for capital improvement projects only . . . In 2005, the Westside TAD disbursed almost $14 million to English Avenue and Vine City. The federally funded Title 20 empowerment zone has allocated $5.8 million for the area.  A Weed and Seed resource audit found that between $4 million and $5 million in funding was disbursed into English Avenue and Vine City in 2008 alone.

And so on.  That doesn’t include all the other resources from private and corporate non-profits, not to mention the vast amounts of taxpayer dollars that go into high-need education, day care, after-school care, city-funded summer camps, Head Start, housing, food stamps, W.I.C. free health-care, transportation, and job training programs, all the types of outreach that activist and the Mayor and Police Chief are now saying we need more of.

Frankly, I wish people would start talking back a bit when their elected officials tell them they’re not doing enough.  It’s utterly untrue, and it’s also pretty insulting.  If you spent a couple of years bopping around in those “outreach” programs, you’d be amazed at what some people are milking off your largesse.  I was surprised.  Salaries of 80K, 150K are hardly uncommon in community outreach — and salaries, frankly, are only the tip of the iceberg.  Then there are the questionable land investment deals that enrich the activists, the power that comes from being able to employ (and thus indebt) vocal community activists and naive VISTA and AmeriCorps neophytes, and the ever-so-flexible category of “administrative costs” that are used to build astonishingly cushy fifedoms, thus laying the ground for future grant-getting.

From Ramage’s article:

There is the Northyards Business Park Improvement Fund, which takes a portion of the money earned from the office park where Bauder College is located and infuses it into English Avenue. The fund is overseen by Antioch Baptist Church North, which boasts a $4.5 million annual budget on its Web site and runs the Bethursday Development Corporation.

Bob Jones, the head of Bethursday, failed to return calls for this story. However, the church’s Web site states the following:

“In addition to the ultra modern, multi-million dollar worship center which was dedicated in 1991, the church campus includes a bi-level administrative complex, a large formidable business plaza that houses the offices of the Antioch Urban Ministries, a community computer center, and the membership orientation facilities, four major parking lots, and a multi-functional Youth Center and adjoining recreational green space for outdoor activities. Dr. [Cameron Madison] Alexander [the church’s minister] has organized the Bethursday Development Corporation to manage building development and other investment opportunities of the Antioch Congregation. In late 2003, construction began on the church campus for a 261 unit apartment building.”

Look, if community programs and community development worked, I’d be the first person in line to support them.  But in addition to largely being theft and waste of taxpayer money, they don’t work.  They often make problems worse, because once you’ve got activists being enabled by tax dollars, those people are empowered through their political connections and your money to promote agendas that actually undermine public safety.

Like doing away with minimum mandatory sentencing, which Attorney General Eric Holder mentioned as part of that “gang summit” Mayor Franklin and Chief Pennington famously attended last week.

How on earth, one might ask, would doing away with laws that take the most violent offenders off the streets actually help with the gang problem?

Good question.  In order to answer it, you have to first understand that the people overseeing the movement to “talk to gangs, not prosecute them” are philosophically opposed to incarceration as a response to crime.  They’re not just anti-incarceration: they believe that people who commit crimes are not really responsible, just deprived.

They believe that you are responsible, for not giving these folks enough things, and that’s why they’re stealing your television set.

Broad strokes, I’ll admit.  But this is the philosophy of the courts, where municipal and criminal court judges have been drawn narrowly from anti-incarceration activist circles for decades.  It’s not the philosophy of the cops on the streets, but it is the philosophy of many Police Chiefs and Sheriffs, many chiefs and sheriffs being elected officials first and cops second.

And it is definitely the philosophy of our new Attorney General, who by saying the things he said at that gang summit clearly delivered the message that he, and the feds, plan to impose themselves on a government power that is not theirs, that is supposed to lie in the hands of the states: sentencing for crimes.

Listen very carefully as Pennington and Franklin and even Fulton D.A. Paul Howard talk about the new gang initiative in coming weeks.  Think about the weird undercurrent of chatter about how this isn’t about putting people away, and we can’t possibly get these people off the streets.

And while you’re at it, take a good look at that child holding up his pants with one hand while trying to break into your car with the other.

How well do you think “negotiating” with him is going to work?

And who’s going to get paid to pretend it did?


1 thought on “Gang Outreach or Just Enforcing the Law: Chicago, LA, Atlanta”

  1. Tina,

    I am sure you heard about the Sheriff of DeKalb County having his car broken into:

    Maybe that will cause him to wake up, I doubt it but it is a hope.

    I completely agree with you that the problem is not financial resources, it almost never is. Lack of funds and especially a continuous lack of funds shows the problem requires a different approach, not more money. I liked your bit awhile back about ‘charities’ holding fundraisers and making everyone feel but the money is really to line the pockets of the talkers, not provide a real difference.

    As always, enjoyed your post,

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