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Times Readers Speak Out on Stopping Gang Violence : Opinion: Callers to TimesLink suggest more social and recreational programs for youth, education for parents and tougher law enforcement.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Wendy Leece says parents should become more closely involved in their children’s lives and schools to end gang membership and violence.

Gangs could be deterred if parents would “go to those places on the sidewalks, in the classrooms and down the halls of the schools where the gang members are congregating,” said Leece of Costa Mesa.

Mark Cohen says kids need to learn values, and offenders should be severely punished for violence.

“We need to make it clear that our society will be tough on gangs and criminals,” said Cohen of Fountain Valley. “We won’t mess around.”

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Leece and Cohen were among 45 readers who used a TimesLink phone-in line Sunday and Monday to give their advice to participants in today’s Orange County anti-gang summit. Suggestions ranged from creating more social and recreational programs to more actively enforcing the death penalty.

Ricki Moore, an elementary-school teacher from Fullerton, said parents need to learn how to do their job better.

“Parent education is essential, because parents feel powerless, and they need to be empowered and know that they can do something about it,” Moore said.

Moore also echoed a theme popular among callers: quick punishment for violent offenders.

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“We need swift incarceration to get (violent offenders) out of society--but also, while they’re incarcerated, intense counseling,” Moore said. Also, “they need to be separated from hard-core, older criminals.”

Another caller was Shellie Woods, whose brother Steve died in November in a random act of violence. Someone threw a sharpened paint roller pierced Woods’ brain as he and friends were leaving a beach in San Clemente.

“It should be an eye for an eye,” Woods said. “We need to do harsher sentencing. The thing with my brother is very difficult to take, because (the assailants) are going to be getting off easy.

“These are your kids, these are our kids, they’re our future--and is this what we want our future to be?” she asked. “Please, people, let’s do something.”

“People that are involved in these sorts of (gang) activities, I feel, are suffering from poverty of their environment and their own mind and character,” said Carlos Aguirre of Dana Point.

Marvin Landfield of Mission Viejo said gang members demand respect but don’t know how to achieve it.

“Just kicking back, being cool, doing drugs, having babies while they’re still children themselves is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Illegal immigrants whose children are gang members also were a hot topic for many readers with advice for summit participants.

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“How many of those people that are arrested are illegal immigrants?” asked Roger Reynolds of San Clemente. “How many are here that aren’t supposed to be here?”

Others focused on the judicial system. Tom Pekar said gang members convicted of crimes should get stiffer penalties to dissuade others.

“Kids see that they can get away with anything, and the court system lets you get away with anything,” said Pekar of Mission Viejo.

Kimberly Huisman of Huntington Beach said leaders should focus on the reasons gangs exist.

“I totally disagree with Gov. (Pete) Wilson’s approach of trying to control gang members, control what they wear. I think we need to go to the root of the problem and address why people are joining gangs: because they want to belong, they have nowhere else to turn.”

Patricia Lopez of Capistrano Beach said city parks and recreation departments should play a role in providing places for young people to go in her area of South County: “Before the judges hand out stiff sentences, before our youth join gangs, the city of Dana Point should provide a recreation center, supervised activities and sports for our youth.”

While some focused on building recreational centers and starting sports leagues for teen-agers, others said the problem may lie not with how young people keep busy but how their families affect their lives.

Officials should “help mothers that are by themselves with children,” said Elena Garcia of Westminster. “I think these children need a father--almost all of them don’t have fathers. We need to bring help to the mothers that are trying to keep the family together.”

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Sandra Moss-Manson, director of the Gang Alternative and Prevention Program of the Los Angeles County Probation Department, called to say she hopes officials at the gang summit will “focus on the root causes of gang behavior and involvement,” such as dysfunctional families.


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