Overcoming Gangs Tough

If Tulsa truly wants to be a gang free city, it will take everyone from city officials to citizens to get involved and take action.
That was the keynote message by John A. Calhoun at the Gang Prevention Summit in Tulsa on Wednesday
Calhoun, former CEO of the National Crime Prevention Council, made it clear that addressing gang problems is not the job of a single agency. That doesn’t work.
Rather, he continued, it will take the combined efforts of government, law enforcement, social service agencies, the faith-based community and citizens. It will take positive action to solve the problem rather than reacting to the difficulties, then wringing hands and wondering what to do next.
He praised Tulsa Mayor Kathy Taylor, summit organizers and participants from other communities and school districts for the first step in dealing with gang issues.
The Los Angeles police chief talked about the coming storm. Well very often in this country action often is taken after the storm.
The real issue is the soul of Tulsa and what sort of Tulsa do you want to build? he asked. Former police chief and summit co-chair Harry Stege earlier said the aim is to change the culture of the city.
It is important to reestablish core values, get intensive contact with the teens, reduce the stress and violence as well as remove the possible instruments for violence such as guns, Calhoun said. It is vital that safe, healthy youth activities are developed with families.
The goal is to have a safe neighborhood and family.
Don’t try to take on a large project, he cautioned. Set goals, but then start small, building success into the effort.
One area took on the effort to make their neighborhood safe. Results were startling. Academic scores in school improved 54 percent. Juvenile crime dropped.
The effort focused on areas where people were too poor to move out, Calhoun said. The short-term goal was to get rid of the drug houses in the area. In each of these projects, crime dropped.
Calhoun referred to some Texas cities where crime was out of control. A group was formed involving police chiefs, interfaith groups and the community.
‘‘Eventually I called the program the Mayor’s Crime Weight Watchers Program,’’ he said. Each time the group met, mayor of the respective cities would tell about something that had been accomplished.
He specifically cited El Paso, a city that, by all expectations, should have a very high crime rate.
The city is poor, there are few jobs and other problems abound, Calhoun said. Yet, through a community police program involving leaders form all areas, crime problems are not dominant.
A comprehensive study in Boston showed that it was possible to reverse gang violence with positive action.
That city got tough on kids, but had programs of all types to keep youth involved in positive activities. There were no murders attributed to youth for three years.
However, after the police chief left, youth violence surged and within one year there were 75 murders attributed to young people.
Now that program is being brought back in an effort to stop the violence.
Isolation of individuals is one of the worst things that can happen, Calhoun said. One youth said he would rather be wanted for murder than not wanted at all.
A former Texas attorney general said that while there are 997 good kids out of a 1000, the three that misbehave get all the attention.
Indeed, this country locks up 700 people per 100,000 population, he said. This country has the highest incarceration rate of any country in the world.
Being tough on gangs and youth just doesn’t work by itself. It takes something to make a difference.
It takes building a community.
A study was being done on crime in Chicago when the researcher noted there were several areas that apparently was an oasis in an area where there was high crime.
Refocusing the study, the researcher found that citizens cared about each other, Calhoun said. That mean people in the church, the school and there were basic core values brought everyone together.
Communication at all levels is critical. Too often different agencies are not talking to each other and that prevents the possibility of any solution being reached.
Thoughts often focus on prevention, intervention and suppression, he added.
Using the examples of three upright silos on a farm, Calhoun said the different agencies in effect were doing their own thing.
But lay those same silos on the side, get interaction and communication started and results are dramatic. Each group feeds the other.
It makes a difference.
Calhoun recalled a time when he was working with a ‘‘big kid’’ with tattoos on his arms who was on probation.
An elderly grandmother who might have reached chest high on the youth, told that young man that he was the reason her grandchildren couldn’t go outside to play, that she couldn’t safely go to the grocery store to get food and participate in other activities.
That woman told the big kid that she had his number and would turn him in if he messed up, Calhoun said. Then that same woman wrote her name and telephone number on a pad, gave it to the big kid, and told him that if he needed help, she would be there for him.
She cared.
‘‘We need to reach down to the young children, those in the fourth grade and show them out of the system,’’ Calhoun continued. ‘‘It is important that someone is there for these young people 24 hours a day, seven days a week. They need that relationship to feel accepted.’’
Calhoun wasn’t sure what to do about video game violence.
That is something that must be dealt with, he said. Some of the games on the market are Postal 2, Columbine 2, and JFK Revisited, Can You Do Better?
The absence of adults on the lives of these children has a major impact on everyone, he said. These children need someone they can trust, someone they can turn to. They need to be taken out of environments where they have access to guns.
‘‘I’m not talking about guns used for hunting,’’ Calhoun said. “I am talking about handguns, Uzis and automatic weapons that are designed and used for killing people.’’
Unfortunately, too many state laws make it difficult to track weapons, something that is resulting in higher homicides.
Philadelphia recently reported that it had 500 homicides in one year. Police reported there were 1,700 shootings where people were serious injured.
Perhaps, Calhoun continued, there might have been 1,000 deaths in that city had it not been for the emergency medical personnel who managed to save lives.
He also suggested that perhaps a seminar be held for medical personnel dealing with these cases.
Noting Philadelphia’s homicide rate, Calhoun said Chicago’s rate was 450 victims for that same period, down by one third from the 600 reported a year earlier.
It is very important to create a climate that fosters deeper values, he said. Dr. Martin Luther King would have failed in his civil rights efforts had he relied on policy alone. Instead he relied on the Book of Exodus to get the grassroots message out.
He also cited the Book of Isaiah where people are called people by name as a means of countering violence and gangs.
And, he added, for those not inclined to use the Bible, there is the example of Winnie the Pooh and Piglet.
Piglet was calling for Winnie, only wanting to know that he was there.
It’s not only important to know a person’s name, it also is important to be there for them, Calhoun said. One drug dealer said he knew the names of all the people who worked for him and he was available around the clock.
‘‘By contrast, you people go home at five o’clock,’’ he told authorities.
‘‘Make it your mission to know and prepare for this work,’’ Calhoun urged. Get to know people by name, he said, quoting Isaiah, 58:12, ‘‘The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt for your sake, and the foundations from ages past you shall raise up: Repairer of the breach, they shall call you, Restorer of ruined homesteads.’’

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