Brandon J. Johnson: Change approach on gangs

09/11/2013 12:00 AM

09/10/2013 5:24 PM

Although I appreciate local and state leaders’ tough talk on gang violence, I am afraid the talk and the action that follows are misguided.

Over the years, law enforcement has pushed for more money and tougher laws (Hard 50, RICO, etc.) to “clean” the streets of hardened criminals. These laws have been passed, ordinances created and passed, and policies put into place. Yet we still see gang involvement and violence increasing and more of our young people’s futures being scarred by having records.

And once our young people are in the system, it is so much harder to successfully rehabilitate and reintegrate them into society. Employers do not want employees with records; apartment complexes and many landlords will not allow residents with records. They seem to always have the cloud of suspicion over their heads. Having a home, food and employment is key to success as Kansans.

I encourage our leaders to think out of the box and try prevention. We have tried the other way for decades, and where has it gotten us?

Those of us in the trenches, working every day with the citizens referred to as gang members, know that more funding for prevention and community cooperation is the only answer.

People join gangs for four reasons: protection, family/brotherhood, money and sometimes because they think it’s cool. Unless the talk or action is dealing in those areas, it will not be effective.

I am not saying that law enforcement is bad or unneeded. In fact, we need law enforcement more than ever, but not in the role it is now playing.

If law enforcement is truly to protect and serve, the service must change. Instead of serving warrants, beat downs, profiling and arrests, it should transform to mentoring, community service, and even offering jobs for youths in the summer. How can we build bridges in the community between law enforcement and citizens if law enforcement only comes in to enforce?

When will the various boards, committees, commissions and programs involve the community – specifically African-Americans and Latinos? You cannot make decisions that affect populations without having representation from that population, if you actually want to make a difference.

The course our leaders are on is like trying to fix a deepwater issue with a surface solution. Let us align, for once, and begin to try something new.

Many of the citizens – and they are still citizens – who serve prison terms will not be rehabilitated in prison. Instead, prison will be a place to incubate hate toward a system that unjustly incarcerates underrepresented populations – a place to concoct plans of how to not get caught the next time, a place that further discourages future opportunities that could keep them out of trouble.

It is truly time for a change, and we the people want something different.

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