| Apr 22 2008
In broad daylight, a man carrying a toddler is riddled with bullets while walking in his neighborhood. Terrified onlookers grab the child and rush her to safety. Onlookers return fire as the car speeds off. The man dies. A gunbattle starts, lasting six hours before one gunman is killed, another is wounded and another gets away.
No, this isn't from some far-off war zone. It's from the streets of Los Angeles - just another episode in the terrible epidemic of gang violence that grips so many of our communities.
Last year, 377 people died in Los Angeles County as a result of gang violence. So far this year, there have been 41 gang-related homicides.
Police Chief William Bratton said the gunmen in this case were members of the infamous Avenues gang. The same gang is suspected in at least a half-dozen homicides since the beginning of the year. It's also the same gang blamed for the notorious shooting death of 3- year-old Stephanie Kuhen, slain when her family took a wrong turn into an alley in Cypress Park in 1995.
This gang and other like it have terrorized the streets of Los Angeles and cities all across America for far too long.
Not long after little Stephanie was gunned down, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah and I first introduced anti-gang legislation to provide our communities with much-needed federal support to help curb gang violence and make our streets safe.
Ten years later, we are on the cusp of making real progress. The bill has changed over the years, and we believe it strikes an appropriate balance - providing hundreds of millions in funding for intervention programs, witness protection and sensible federal penalties. It has been approved by the Senate. Now it must go through the House.
The legislation would authorize $1 billion over the next five years. It calls for beefed-up coordination of federal, state and local law enforcement efforts as well as gang prevention, intervention and suppression programs.
It would fund successful programs like one at the Bresee Foundation near downtown Los Angeles. The area surrounding the foundation is home to one-quarter of the city's gang-related crime. But through intervention and mentoring programs, counseling and career development workshops, this faith-based organization has made a difference in the lives of thousands of low-income children and their families. Many have gone on to college and some of the foundation's graduates have returned to help tutor immigrants, improve computer education and help run the health clinic and after- school program.
Programs like these are critical if we are to help keep our young people out of gangs - and they would be funded in this legislation.
In total, this bill would provide:
$411.5 million for gang prevention and intervention programs for at-risk youth;
$270 million for witness protection.
$437.5 million for increased funding for the Justice Department, prosecutors, FBI agents and others to increase investigations and prosecutions of gangs and other violent offenders.
New federal anti-gang laws that increase penalties for violent street gang crimes.
A new federal crime for recruiting criminal street gang members, with extra punishments for recruiting minors.
We need all of these tools to help in the fight against this growing problem. Gang violence has spread across the United States to cities large and small. Police say at least one-quarter of the homicides in America's major cities and communities are gang- related.
In just the past several weeks:
One man was killed and another injured in two drive-by shootings in three days in Yakima, Wash.
A 17-year-old boy was shot and killed after a gang-related fist fight outside a birthday party in Apple Valley.
An 18-year-old man was gunned down on his front lawn in South Side Chicago - hours before he was scheduled to fly to Seattle to start life anew.
Police estimate that gangs now affect at least 2,500 communities nationwide. They control neighborhoods through violence. They traffic in drugs, theft, extortion, prostitution, guns and murder. It puts everyday people, and children, in danger.
In 1991, there were 250,000 reported gang members in the United States. Today, the FBI says there are 800,000 active gang members - more than all the law-enforcement officers patrolling our streets.
Time is of the essence. The past several weeks have seen even more gang violence on the streets of Los Angeles County. A 6-year- old boy critically hurt after gang members fired at his family's car in Torrance; a gang member shot to death during a gunfight with police in Wilmington; and a 15-year-old boy shot to death while standing on the porch of a house in San Pedro.
Given this real and present danger, there is simply no excuse for not passing this legislation.