(FinalCall.com) – It is in local communities where gang life unfolds daily on the streets, where officials are energetically looking to find and implement more successful “antidotes” to the lure of gang life, not to find new ways to criminalize the conduct of every group of three or more young people congregating on a street corner.
But at least one federal official is now leading a wrong-headed new charge in the opposite direction.
Even as local officials are faced with decreasing federal resources every year, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed a new, draconian measure that would drain even more of the available money from successful programs intended to “increase the peace” among rival urban youth groups, and put that money into another government law enforcement scheme that would make it a federal crime to participate in any “criminal street gang,” which means three or more people who cooperate to commit two or more “gang crimes.”
Sen. Schumer’s bill–S-1735, the “Criminal Street Gang Abatement Act of 2004”–would make gang recruitment punishable by up to 10 years in jail; would permit judges to impose consecutive sentences on people convicted of being in a gang, and committing violence as a part of that gang; and would even permit the death penalty or life in prison without parole, on suspects as young as 16. In addition, the law would give prosecutors the license to determine whether or not a juvenile is treated as an adult: heretofore, an authority exclusively exercised by judges.
Activists who have a successful track record in brokering peaceful solutions among violent gangs from coast to coast are in agreement that more programs are needed for intervention and prevention that young people can trust, instead of more federal legislation that will add yet another layer of criminality to the complex web of urban life.
Some even see Mr. Schumer’s proposal as “open warfare” on our youth.
Parents must be taught to be more vigilant and alert to the signs of delinquency, using all five senses if necessary: watching for listless intoxicated appearances and gang signs on clothing; listening for the use of belligerent language; and noticing the smell of alcohol or drugs, for example.
Such intervention by parents with the help of school, community and religious leaders can make a difference in stemming unwanted behavior. Such intervention can lead families to begin to address the root problems of mental, physical and spiritual neglect and abuse.
Properly motivated and spiritually guided families and communities can then begin to address the societal problems that cause poverty and the destruction of stable home-life, instead of resorting to legislation such as that proposed by Sen. Schumer.
This legislation appears to be part of the self-fulfilling prophecy which makes more and more juveniles unwitting candidates for the fast growing, privately owned prison-industrial-complex and its by-product, a growing, slave-labor pool inside U.S. prisons.
What is needed are more programs that instill values and morals in young people and the surrogate families they form among their peers on the streets, not more ways to start at an even earlier age to lock them up and throw away the key.