War in Los Angeles

by Alexandra Fish, , December 3, 2008

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Citizens of the United States are fully aware of the wars our military is fighting overseas, but do they know about the war that wages in our own country every day? Some people may be aware of the rising gang violence, due to news coverage. The average gang member will not live to see 21 years of age. That is exactly how old I am and when I put myself in the position of this ‘kill or be killed’ culture, I soon realized that this is an epidemic of great proportions.

Not only are participating gang members dying, innocent victims' lives are being taken, like fourteen year old Cheryl Green, who was chatting with her friends as a Latino gang searched for anyone who was black to kill. According to the New York Times, they came and sprayed her with bullets leaving the eighth grader dead and the group of her friends injured. She had no gang affiliations whatsoever; she just happened to take her scooter too close to the imaginary separation line of two gangs.

These senseless acts of violence are nothing new to cities like Los Angeles. There have been numerous riots due to gang activity, dating back to 1965. These crimes are on the rise, with a 14 percent increase of gang-related violence. This violence is finding its way into schools, places of worship, residential areas and jails. The main theme authorities are seeing is the racial tension between Latinos and African-Americans.

With people all across the country protesting the war in Iraq, why do they not protest the violence in Los Angeles? In 2008, 269 casualties were reported from Iraq. This is far less than the number of people dead in only Los Angeles. That is not to take away from our military in the United States, but it is easy to see how this problem is close to being ignored in the U.S. today.

To put into perspective how many people are dying, the Los Angeles Times has a webpage dedicated to deaths by gang violence. This page can be found here. On average, 1.4 persons a week die from gang violence. So far in 2008, 592 people have been killed. Keep in mind, the year 2008 is not over, there is still 1 month left. The main age demographic is from 20 to 24 years of age. The race/ethnicity demographic is Latino people with 324 killed and African American people following with 191 killed. The gender is overwhelmingly male, with 505 people dead. The most popular method as one could guess is gunshot wound, with 463deaths.

Drug trade seems to be why these tensions are getting out of hand. As the story goes, nearly 13 years ago, East Coast Crips robbed a Florencia 13 gang of a large quantity of dope and since then the tension has escalated. Authorities aren’t sure if the story is true, however the racial and drug trafficking tensions are evident. The main income of gangs comes directly from drug sales; therefore there are frequent disputes about territory between gangs. This is just one of the motivations of gang homicides.

Government officials have come up with numerous methods to curb gang violence. The LAPD are releasing a list of 10 to 20 of the most dangerous gangs. The police department hopes to send a message to the gangs that they are being targeted. However, gangs have intricate systems in which to warn each other of the presence of police. For instance, a member could have a radio, which is tuned into the same frequency as the police force. They can listen and see where cops are, and avoid those places. They also post members at certain places to keep a watchful eye of police activity. Some authorities may guess that this list may anger gangs and cause them to act out against it.

Schools are aiming to better educate the younger population who might be at risk for joining a gang. A school exists for youths charged by the law who would rather be educated than spend time in a penitentiary. However, these programs are expensive and most of the areas in question are of low socio-economic status. Therefore, school budgets are already low. Taxpayers are upset that the fortune they have spent in the past years has been so far overwhelmingly unsuccessful. Residents wish to see the violence stop and peace come to all neighborhoods.

Earl Hutchinson, a journalist who covers gang crimes for the LA Times hopes the violence comes to an end. He fears for the future of this country. He states, “I think L.A. is a microcosm of what could happen in big cities in the future,” Mr. Hutchinson said. “When we have the kind of tension you see in L.A. in the schools, the workplace and now hate-crime violence, my great concern is this is a horrific view of what could happen in other cities.” As Mr. Hutchinson states, this could be a problem elsewhere in the United States. Already cities like Washington D.C., New York City, St. Louis, and Miami are seeing the effects of dangerous gang crime. Not to mention the countless young lives that are being lost.

As a student, this is saddening because these people who are dying could have been my peers, co-workers, bosses, or friends. They are exactly my age and are denying to themselves a fulfilling, happy life. In some cases, they are forced into it. This is a deeply rooted problem with very few solutions. If rates continue to rise, the United States will have to do something as a nation. We cannot continue to look on and let children and young adults die because of gang violence. Mothers and fathers cannot continue to bury their children and pray that their remaining children will be alive tomorrow.

The mother of Cheryl Green is paying the high price for gang life being rampant in places like Los Angeles. She has since moved to another neighborhood after a neighbor’s relative was shot. “I feel it is unfortunate my daughter had to be the sacrificial lamb,” she said. “But I just hope there is a change in this neighborhood.”

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