‘3 Strikes’ Should Spare Youths, Marchers Say : Protest: Teen-agers call for exclusion of juvenile felonies and say root causes of crime should be addressed.
Contending that the state’s “three strikes” law fails to attack the root causes of crime, about 100 black and Latino teen-agers on Wednesday called for exclusion of juvenile felonies from the law during a peaceful march and rally in South-Central Los Angeles.
“We don’t need new crime laws to get rid of crime,” Jose Herrera, 18, a recent high school graduate, told a crowd gathered outside the Welcome Baptist Church on South Central Avenue. “We need jobs, recreational opportunities and a better education system.”
Herrera, who plans to attend Los Angeles Community College this fall and eventually to study law, said that money spent on new prisons to warehouse long-term convicts would be better targeted toward improving living conditions in minority neighborhoods.
Citing statistics showing that it costs as much to incarcerate a youngster as to send him to an elite private college, Herrera concluded, “With no jobs, you’re going to have someone selling crack or stealing things to get it.”
Under the “three strikes” law, offenders with two serious or violent felonies face sentences of 25 years to life in prison if convicted of a third felony. The failure to differentiate between crimes or to give judges discretion in issuing sentences has led some political leaders to call for revisions and also has prompted several judges to rebel when issuing sentences.
The afternoon rally, under sweltering skies, was organized by the South Central Youth Empowered Thru Action, the youth component of the Community Coalition for Substance Abuse Prevention, a publicly funded organization that has campaigned against the rebuilding of liquor stores destroyed in the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Karen Bass, executive director of the substance abuse organization, said the law is racist since a majority of adults and youngsters sent to prison in California are black or Latino.
According to California Department of Justice criminal statistics for 1992, 28% of felony charges statewide were filed against blacks and 31.6% of blacks convicted were sent to prison. An additional 33.8% of felony charges were filed against Latinos, and 37.2% of Latinos convicted were sent to prison. On the other hand, 34.3% of felony charges statewide were filed against whites, and 28.9% of whites convicted went to prison.
Bass said the rally was an effort to focus attention on problems with the law so that more minority community leaders and elected officials would take a stand against it.
“It isn’t that we oppose sanctions against crime,” Bass said. “The problem is the hysteria right now of passing a massive social policy because of a couple murders.”
Last year, there were 133 murders in the area covered by the Los Angeles Police Department’s 77th Street bureau, where the 10-block march concluded. In the area covered by the Southeast bureau, where the march began, there were 133 murders. In contrast, the West Los Angeles bureau reported 10 murders in 1993.
Among those at the march were activist Michael Zinzun, chairman of the Coalition Against Police Abuse, and several teen-agers dressed in fake prison uniforms.
“When you’re young you’re less aware of right and wrong,” said Ashonte Burley, 16, who held a sign reading “3 Strikes Rule Is Unfair to Youth.” “As you get older, you get wiser.”
Opposition to “three strikes” was not universal among those whose path the march crossed.
Beauty salon co-owner Laurease Botiz, after watching the parade pass her heavily gated windows, said the law may help make high-crime neighborhoods safer.
“If it takes ‘three strikes’ to keep gangbangers off the streets, I’m for it,” she said.
Botiz said violent felonies by juveniles should be counted as strikes because “any 15-year-old knows the difference between good and bad.”
Since Gov. Pete Wilson signed the law in March, the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office has filed 749 “three strikes” cases.