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The Youth Gang Connection

The number one predictor of youth violence is violence in the youth's home.
— Kurt Fischer, Harvard/Brandies University Study, 2002

The dire consequences of turning our backs on domestic violence in the Latino community reach far beyond the prolonged suffering of the immediate victim. Here, we look at just one of these consequences; the fueling of youth gangs with runaways, resentments, and rage.

Imagine, if, instead of routinely turning their backs on non English-speaking victims, officials would prioritize them. With this one remedy, we would foster well being and social health in the homes, schools, and streets of the Latino community, instead of the current disaster of discrimination and distrust.

In the last decade, youth gangs have become an epicenter of Sonoma County consternation. Santa Rosa officials have targeted youth gangs as a law enforcement priority; a ranking, they say, that reflects concerns as revealed in formal community surveys. And Sheriff Cogbill, in a Press Democrat interview, has said that gangs are going to be "one of the most significant issues" for law enforcement and the community for years to come.

In a series of meetings last fall, Santa Rosa officials convened "a hundred prominent community leaders" to brainstorm gang prevention solutions. The group churned out the time worn clichés; more youth activities outside school, involving more youths, parents, and schools, and early intervention and prevention education But for all the hand wringing, calls to committee, and consternation, how is it that so many local leaders fail to mention the obvious?

Nowhere on the list was there a call for law enforcement to stop turning their backs on violence in the home, especially on Latina victims of domestic violence.

Few social facts are as well established in study after study, or through simple common sense. The number one predictor of youth violence is violence in the youth's home.

Ending domestic violence should be at the top of the gang prevention list. And especially in the Latino community where the language barrier is so often used to bar the door.

Why the Latino community? Make no mistake. Spoken or unspoken, the understood color of gang focus in Sonoma county is Latino. In December 2002, of 3,200 gang members listed on Sonoma County's secret list of named gang members, fully 80% were Latino males between 16 and 25 years of age.

To be sure, a lot of questions need answering as to how these gang member designations are made. The indicators used by local police are so over broad and so association dependent, it's hard to imagine how any young Latino male living in a Latino neighborhood could escape the label. Our law enforcement's secret gang lists are rightfully a serious civil rights concerns.

But whatever the real numbers, it's the community response to gang prevention we question here.

If local officials truly want to prevent gang violence, they can't keep dodging an examination of their own role in creating it. When police refuse to bridge the language barrier for Latina victims of domestic violence, they condemn both the Latina mothers and children to stew interminably in the pressure cooker of a violence at home. There's no more potent recipe for promoting gang violence. The mother's control of her children is extinguished. And the child is steeped in a cauldron of terror and fear. Can there be any surprise when that child becomes the adolescent who seeks refuge and expression of rage in a gang?

Where is the conscience of our community? We use immigrants to generate the abundant wealth in our community, then refuse to give them a translator when they have emergencies, and then act like we can't figure out why the kids turn angry in the street.

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Copyright © Marie De Santis,
Women's Justice Center,


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