Commentary

Dewayne Jackson was known around Stockton as an easygoing 27-year-old with a great sense of humor. He worked in local clubs as a stand-up comedian many nights.

But one Saturday night in 2004, Dewayne was caught in the crossfire of a shootout between Bloods and Crips feuding over drug territory. As he was trying to escape, Dewayne was shot in the back and paralyzed. He will never again be able to walk across the stage he loved.

Gang violence is an attack not only on individuals, but on our communities. It stops mothers from allowing their children to play outside. It prevents the elderly from taking walks in their neighborhoods. It creates an environment of fear.

It is time for the federal government to provide a hand of assistance in trying to come to grips with rising street-gang violence. The key is a careful balance, including some tough federal penalties and funding for prosecutions, successful community programs and witness protection.
Gang violence continues to escalate. There are over 29,000 violent street gangs, motorcycle gangs and prison gangs in America today. Membership has grown 10 percent over the past decade - from 730,000 to almost 800,000 members. These gangs are sophisticated and violent. They are complex criminal organizations trafficking weapons and committing robberies and homicides.

Gangs are spreading throughout the United States, migrating, recruiting and infiltrating our nation's urban, suburban and rural areas. There is no region untouched.

In California, there are more than 3,720 gangs with more than 170,000 members. That's twice as many people as live in Tracy. Since 1999, there have been more than 3,650 gang-related homicides in California, a 72 percent increase from 1999.

The Central Valley is home to 523 gangs claiming more than 20,000 members. In Tracy, the percentage of violent crimes committed by gang members is more than twice the national average. And in Manteca, gang-related crime has increased 30 percent just over the past 18 months. The Valley needs help.

Our communities are battling gangs such as Mara Salvatrucha, or MS-13, which the attorney general has identified as the most dangerous in America. MS-13 claims 20,000 members across 33 states, with a wide-ranging record from homicide to extortion. Its roots are in Los Angeles, but it can now be found as far away as Alaska.

Recent reports indicate that Mexican smugglers plan on hiring members of MS-13 to murder Border Patrol agents and that MS-13 members have been linked to terrorists.

We need federal legislation. I have introduced a bill designed to focus on this national problem. The legislation encourages the most effective way to prosecute gang crime: by attacking the criminal enterprise. The bill would:

  • Create new criminal gang prosecution offenses. Recruiting a minor would be a federal crime.
  • Authorize $400 million over the next five years to support federal, state, and local law enforcement efforts with increased funding for witness-protection programs and street-gang enforcement teams.
  • Authorize an additional $362 million over the next five years to support intervention and prevention programs for at-risk youths.

This bill would provide tools and resources. It combines enforcement with prevention. It is tough, effective and fair. Local law enforcement needs help - both in terms of resources and community vigilance. We must identify and fund successful community programs that stem gang recruitment and participation. We must make it safe for witnesses to come forward.

The United States is facing a crisis. Gangs are a cancer on our communities, a plague on our schools and an attack on our families. The senseless violence perpetrated by gang members on one another, on police officers and on innocent bystanders is horrifying.

Gangs represent a serious national threat, and the problem calls for a serious national response.

Feinstein, former mayor of San Francisco, is in her third term in the U.S. Senate.