By WAFEEQ S. SABIR
Special to the Star-Telegram November 15, 2009
More than 25 years of hardnosed professional law enforcement efforts have been levied toward gang violence in Fort Worth. Cities such as Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City have nearly a century of addressing gang violence. Unfortunately, cities large and small continue to report an increase in the number of gangs and gang membership.
Are we living in a state of diminished returns, or is hope alive?
Although our local government and social service agencies are hard at work in reducing levels of gang violence in our communities, there continues to be an urgency to understand the impact of gang violence and what is — and isn’t — working.
In communities throughout the country, the notion of admitting or denying that a gang problem exists is a common struggle. Admitting that gangs exist should not mean that nothing else needs to be done. Denying that there are gangs does not make our community is safer, because we do not address the problem.
Communities that openly admit the presence of gangs understandably are more head-on in addressing the problem. Once a community admits there’s a problem, people become angry. That’s the time when they will commit to positive change.
Gangs will continue to haunt our communities for the next 200 years unless and until the outcries for change outnumber the lives lost to gang violence. Only then will communities become safer.
One proposal that would minimize gang presence is for lawmakers to discontinue passing ineffective legislation that institutionalizes youth instead of rehabilitating them while addressing the issues that pushed them into gangs in the first place. When poverty, illiteracy and mental health issues are properly addressed, the attraction to gangs will decrease.
The combined efforts of law enforcement, schools, social services and churches work. Citizen policing groups such as Code Blue and Ministers Against Crime are highly beneficial. Crime Stoppers and Imagine No Violence campaigns are powerful anti-violence initiatives. Behavioral and lifestyle improvement programs offered by nonprofit agencies such as UMOJA and the Boys and Girls Clubs continue to demonstrate great success stories.
The missions and goal statements of these entities and programs are being realized because many of us have decided it is unacceptable for our youth to remain ill-prepared for the realities of life. An increasing population of unprepared and undereducated youth forces us all to respond quickly, effectively and practically.
So, what isn’t working? There are more gangs and drugs in America than ever before, and the numbers are steadily rising. More than 785,000 gang members are reported to exist in the U.S., and billions of dollars are spent yearly toward the "War on Drugs."
The yearly cost of sustaining a young person in prison far exceeds the cost of educating our youth in public schools or sponsoring them at the local community center. It is clear that law enforcement cannot arrest away the problem. Many of our young people are angry at their communities, and they express that anger through unacceptable behaviors such as truancy, chemical dependency and gang involvement.
Our children are angry. When will we get angry?
I highly recommend that communities seek realistic solutions. The key to addressing gangs or any social issue may be as simple as ABC: Affirm, believe and commit. Affirm there is a problem, believe that you have or can garner the resources needed to address it, and commit to change.
Wafeeq S. Sabir of Fort Worth is a 23-year veteran of the Fort Worth Police Department. More than 18 years of that service was spent in the gang unit.