TV report transcript
There are estimated 200,000 gang members in Los Angeles, California. Law enforcement officials say gangs account for as much as half of all violent crimes committed there, and are considered the number-one law enforcement problem in Los Angeles.
One of the challenges authorities face is keeping newly-arrived immigrants from falling under the influence of local gangs and adding to the problem. As VOA's George Dwyer reports, one part of the solution is to provide alternatives to gang membership as early in life as possible.
Los Angeles, California is home to some of the worst gang-related violence in America; keeping it from getting even worse is the job not only of law enforcement officials, but also of community-based organizations like Proyecto Pastoral.
"This is a neighborhood characterized as one of the most heavily concentrated with respect to gangs. What we at Proyecto try and do is see that this generation not be involved in gangs."
Gabriel Bueina is Executive Director of Proyecto Pastoral, a faith-based organization founded by Jesuit priests from the Dolores Mission in the tough Boyle Heights neighborhood.
"Well, the community of Boyle Heights, it's east of downtown Los Angeles, it's 98 percent Latino, and among Latino it's about 80 percent immigrant. It's a community constantly in transition."
Fostering stability in this community is considered essential to preventing young people from becoming involved in gangs.
One way to accomplish that is by providing early guidance to children at day care facilities. Rosalba Bravo is a caseworker with Proyecto.
"The children learn to be more independent, he learns to express himself, what he needs, what he doesn't want, what he does want."
Teaching children how to get along is particularly important in Boyle Heights say Rosalba, because there are so many examples of bad behavior.
"This is a gang area -- you know, there are shootings every weekend you can say, there's always a helicopter every other day, you can hear the helicopter because there was a shooting, a drive-by. In the past two months we've already had two males shot and killed, and it was around in this area -- just down the street on First Street."
Proyecto also runs a community center for teens, where they can find books and activities, and adult guidance.
"We also have a 'neighborhood watch' program here, down the street; you know we're in charge of cleaning our community, keeping it clean and showing that gangs that we're not scared, that we're out here, that we want to walk at night and be safe."
Projecto Pastoral also fights the drift toward gang activity by running a homeless shelter, right inside the mission, sleeping 50 to 60 homeless people right inside the church.
"You know there is a big generation of young people coming into the U.S. from Latin America and one thing is real is that if they end up staying on the streets they are going to get involved in drugs, alcohol and you-name-it. Chances are they are not going to do well."
And chances are, they'll do better with the early age emotional support they receive in programs like this one.