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Gang violence not just limited to urban communities
By Kenneth Miller Assistant to Executive Editor
Evan Barnes Sentinel Sports Editor
Sheldon Patton has been a security officer at Pasadena John Muir High School since 1985 and in his 23 years at the school nestled west of downtown Los Angeles he has seen the dramatic climb of gang association of teens from the surburbs of that city.
What Patton has witnessed is that Black and white middle and upper class teenagers are beginning to follow many of the trends established by urban youths and many hard-core gang members.
“Suburban kids are beginning to take on the look of the typical gang member,” Patton explained to the Sentinel in a recent interview.
“Pasadena is a funny city. From the projects in the northwest you can glance up and see million dollar homes. Duarte and Monrovia are not too far from here and kids who live in those regions gang dress attire as if it’s some a fad,” he explained.
The attire he’s speaking about are sagging pants, oversized shirts and huge baseball caps cropped backward.
“For the most part they will try and clash with a set every now and then and they just walk around and talk about being in a gang,” he added.
Many of them are influenced by the culture of videos and rap music, but the real violence they experience is because of the increasing number of gang members from urban communities expanding their territory to the suburbs.
Last month a community forum was convened to seek ways to curb gang violence in Duarte and Monrovia.
An estimated 40 government, nonprofit and public safety representatives gathered at Duarte Community Center.
The community was searching for answers to quell a siege of gang violence and even suggested that perhaps a gang czar be brought in to coordinate prevention efforts.
African American sheriff Capt. Richard Shaw was happy to hear discussions of strong action against gangs, but wanted a more specific direction.
“The bottom line is, this ship needs a rudder,” said Shaw, who runs the sheriff’s Temple Station, which patrols Duarte and neighboring and unincorporated area.
The suburbs used to be a place where people ran to be safe. The term “white flight” came up partly because white families with money could flee the suburbs away from the urban areas heavily populated by poor minorities
In the 1990’s and 2000’s, the black middle class started to do the same as the “black flight” in Los Angeles saw families move from places like Compton and Inglewood to cities in the Inland Empire, San Fernando Valley and San Gabriel Valley.
According to the 2000 national census, 39 percent of African Americans lived in the suburbs, up from 34 percent in 1990.
But as more families moved out of the inner city, so did gang members who began to terrorize their new areas and threaten the quiet lifestyle many expected when they moved there.
Now kids and young adults are facing the fear of having to look over their shoulder as they walk certain streets or avoid the growing pressure to join a gang to find a sense of security.
In cities like Pasadena, Palmdale, Monrovia and Long Beach, police and city officials now have to address the rising issues of gang violence. The question that demands an answer is not just “why?” but “what”—as in what has contributed to rise of gang violence in these areas.
“I feel that it’s a combination of the education system, lack of jobs and a lack of skills to enable men and women to be competitive [in their new surroundings],” Pasadena Councilwoman Jacque Robinson said.
Robinson added that she feels the ongoing cycle of these inadequacies have led more people to join a gang and with multiple members of families sometimes involved, the decision becomes easier.
There are several possible reasons but many of the leaders who offered comments pointed back to the glaring problems of education and socio-economic stagnation that often drive youth to this dangerous lifestyle.
Their solution—invest more money in schools and diversion programs instead of beefing up law enforcement and the criminal justice system.
“We must invest in our public schools and we have to make college more affordable so that young people will see the possibility of leading productive lives,” Congresswoman Laura Richardson said.
“The unintended consequences of soundly educating the poor and less fortunate people among us show in studies after studies there are improvements in health, increases in income and the lessening in street violence and crime,” said William Zeigler, president of the Seaside (Monterey) branch of the NAACP.