Question: What kind of gang problem does Lincoln Heights have? What should be done?
City Council member for Lincoln Heights
I think that there is a gang problem in Lincoln Heights, though I wouldn’t say it’s greater than in other parts of the city. And right now there is a tremendous amount of focus on Lincoln Heights that could give us some of the resources to deal with it. Basically, this area has received a lot of neglect because it is a quiet community. Also, Lincoln Heights has a 20% to 25% poverty rate, not the 25% to 35% required for a lot of federal funding.
From my perspective, there has been very little, if any, consistent community involvement in the Lincoln Heights area by the Los Angeles Police Department. The community has not supported [the facilities it has], either. This incident was a wake-up call to tell us that this is our neighborhood, nobody else’s, and if we choose not to participate in the quality of life we will continue to find the kind of neglect that creates opportunities for our children to become members of gangs.
Executive director, Los Angeles Boys and Girls Club of America, Lincoln Heights resident
From the establishment of the Boys and Girls Club in 1945, it was seen as neutral territory for different gangs. But when gangs became prevalent in the community, we had to take a stand. We had originally allowed gang members [into] our facilities, but we don’t do that any more. There are an awful lot of kids who say, ‘Man, if it wasn’t for the Boys and Girls Club to keep me off the streets, to keep me away from all those negative things in the community . . . ' We provide an alternative to the streets for those kids.
Lincoln Heights resident, Cal State Northridge student
Lincoln Heights seems like a very happy environment. You see a lot of people out in the street. Occasionally you see people, I guess you could call them gangbangers, but I have never had any confrontations with any of them. My brother looks like a gangster, dresses like a gangster, but he is not one of them. So when we are walking down the street, the police slow down and look at him bad--but they see me, they don’t. By doing this, the police are dividing the people, and that is why people disrespect the police. They come across as not being friendly people.
National vice president for community education and public policy, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund
The [overall] gang problem could be alleviated if you provide alternative programs, alternative activities, such as youth employment. Another alternative is related to the crime bill and the portion that did not pass, the midnight basketball program. That is another way in which you keep youth engaged in sports and away from gang activity.
The Police Department also needs to be more culturally sensitive. The more the police force understands itself, its prejudices, its own discrimination, the better they would be able to relate with communities of color.
Interviews by Vladimir Cerna