When I lived in New York, I don’t remember ever coming across gangs or even hearing that much about them unless it was from a friend of mine who was an assistant U.S. attorney in the organized crimes unit. Some of the gangs were so big that they were lumped in with the mafia and she’d occasionally tell me scary yet captivating stories.
Los Angeles seems to be a different story. While I’m not in a neighborhood known for any kind of gang activity (though it’s a radically different story just a few blocks south of me), it seems much more pervasive here. At least several times a month I hear a popping sound at night and I’m never sure whether it’s gunfire or a firecracker. Just the other night, I was sitting in a friend’s car after he’d brought me home from a concert and we kept hearing popping noises. We both decided it was time for me to go in and for him to move on.
According to the Los Angeles Police Department’s website, LA is the “gang capital of the nation” with more than 450 active gangs (I’ve seen much higher figures than that) and more than 45,000 gang members).
There are some very effective gang intervention programs in Los Angeles, including Homeboy Industries, which I know I keep mentioning lately, as well at Summer Night Lights. SNL is a six-week annual program run by the parks department (and City Hall’s office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development) that offers recreational activities, meals, counseling and other services in 32 city parks four nights a week in some of Los Angeles’ most gang-ridden neighborhoods. The idea is to keep the parks filled on summer nights, in some places up until midnight, with families instead of gang members.
The amazing thing is the program, started by former mayor Antonio Villaraigosa six years ago, is really having an impact. A Lost Angeles Times story cited a stat that gang-related crime had dropped 40%(!!!) in some of the neighborhoods offering SNL over the last few years. Plus, it trains and employs at-risk kids to run the activities. Funding for the program is split between private donors and public resources.
Last night, SNL held its annual gala with Randy Newman (who loves LA, as you know) and “Glee’s” Amber Riley. The event raised more than $1 million.
Today’s $10 goes to The GRYD Foundation (that stands for gang reduction/youth development), which helps run Summer Night Lights.
Aug. 1: The GRYD Foundation