Sunday, January 21, 2007

L.A. Gang Violence Stirs Fears of Ethnic Cleansing

Surging incidents of racial gang violence in Los Angeles are raising fears among community members and public officials of a broader campaign by Latino gangs to cleanse black residents from some city neighborhoods. This Los Angeles Times article has the background:

The headlines are among the most stark documenting gang violence. A Latino gang member, without saying a word, guns down a 14-year-old black girl standing on a sidewalk. A black gang member shoots a Latino toddler point-blank in the chest.

For the most part, though, the role racial animosity has played in gang crime has gone unexamined, largely undocumented in crime statistics and often tamped down by politicians and law enforcement officials anxious about inflaming tensions.

That changed this month when Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, Police Chief William J. Bratton and L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca all spoke with unusual candor of their concern that an increasing number of gang crimes appear to be born out of racial hatred. In a few instances, the Los Angeles Police Department has identified Latino gangs they say are indiscriminately targeting African American residents in what appear to be campaigns to drive blacks from some neighborhoods.
Check out the whole article, which argues that the increase in interracial attacks may actually be motivated more by territorial jealousies than racial hatred. Still, the toll has been shocking. In addition to the unspeakable murders of the two babies cited above, the city is reeling from last month's murder of Cheryl Green, a 14 year-old black girl from the Harbor Gateway neighborhood. Green's killing -- and the larger fears of racially-motivated attacks city-wide -- was the subject of a front-page New York Times analysis earlier this week:

Cheryl’s killing last month, which the police said followed a confrontation between the gang members and a black man, stands out in a wave of bias-related attacks and incidents in a city that promotes its diversity as much as frets over it....

Much of the violence springs from rivalries between black and Latino gangs, especially in neighborhoods where the black population has been declining and the Latino population surging. A 14 percent increase in gang crime last year, at a time when overall violent crime was down, has been attributed in good measure to the interracial conflict.
The upsurge in gangland attacks comes amid overall decreases in Los Angeles crime, where statistics on burglaries, car thefts, rapes, and assualts have been dropping for five years. Gang violence has been more difficult to stem, however. Heather MacDonald, in an op-ed piece in today's Los Angeles Times, argued against a broad, bureaucratic response to the crime problem, suggesting that solutions to the plague of gang violence are found in the restoration of marriage and family in the inner cities:
THE LOS ANGELES City Council recently paid $593,000 for a report on how to end the city's rising gang violence. The taxpayers didn't get their money's worth. The much-ballyhooed study, directed by civil rights attorney Connie Rice, makes a whopping 100 recommendations yet can't bring itself to mention the most important driver of gang involvement — family breakdown.

"A Call to Action: A Case for a Comprehensive Solution to L.A.'s Gang Violence Epidemic" recycles all the failed nostrums from the war on poverty, such as government-created jobs, "life-skills training," "parenting education and support" and "crisis intervention." Since the 1960s, trillions of dollars have been spent on such programs without so much as making a dent in the underclass culture that gives rise to gangs. And these initiatives will never make a significant difference in that culture as long as the vast majority of young males in inner-city neighborhoods are raised without their fathers.

To be sure, plenty of heroic single mothers are bringing up law-abiding young men. But the evidence by now is overwhelming: Boys raised in fatherless homes, on average, are disproportionately likely to get involved in crime and fail in school. Without a strong paternal role model, these boys are vulnerable to the lure of macho gang culture as a surrogate for a father's authority.

When the norm of marriage disappears from a community, furthermore, the pressure for young males to become socialized evaporates as well. Boys in South Los Angeles and other gang-plagued neighborhoods grow up with little expectation that they will have to woo and marry the mother of their children. The standard assumption is that girls and women will raise their children by themselves, resulting in an out-of-wedlock birthrate of greater than 70%. Freed from the necessity of marriage, boys have little incentive to develop the bourgeois habits of selfdiscipline and deferred gratification that would make them an attractive prospect as a husband.
MacDonald also suggests that boosted support for the Los Angeles Police Department, along with community involvement to restore positive cultural norms, are likely to be a more effective remedies than the recycling of Great Society-era governmental social-policy programs.

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