Me For Mayor 

VERA'S GANG Last Friday, Mayor Vera Katz hosted a long overdue "summit" on gang violence. Over the past two years, there's been a marked increase in crimes associated with gangs around Portland, and in the past year alone there have been 11 unsolved murders attributed to battles between local gangs.

But even before the summit convened, it was being criticized for its lack of ethnic diversity. Of the 13 members present, three were African American community leaders. And even though Latino and Asian teens account for more than half of the gang activity in the area, no Latino or Asian community leaders were invited to the meeting.

Not surprisingly, the summit concluded with no new solutions, other than officials deciding they needed more patrols and more money. Sadly, this proposal is just another temporary fix; nothing is being done to reach out to the youth, which, after all, is the only proven way to stop gang violence.

For nearly two years, I worked as an attorney with the State of California juvenile courts. My jurisdiction was Oakland, a city besieged by gang activity and violence.

In that position, I read hundreds of files on teens going to either foster care or, in some cases, detention. Although each of these personal histories were uniquely different (and sad), there were obvious common threads.

Invariably, the story began with some sort of abandonment--either a parent ditched out, or had no business being a parent in the first place. From there, the story usually progressed into petty crimes like shoplifting or drug use. Eventually, without a family structure, these youth often--and understandably--found camaraderie and safety in a gang.

The idea of putting more patrols on the streets is an after-the-fact solution. By the time a youth reaches a gang, he or she has been roundly ignored and shunned. Adding more police only reminds these teens that they are not part of "civilized society"--or, for that matter, part of the solution.

Instead of further criminalizing gang members, city hall needs to show some empathy and forethought. With the summit, the mayor could have taken a major step towards curbing gang violence--not with droning officials and Powerpoint presentations, but by inviting those who best understand gangs: Gang members, themselves. PHIL BUSSE www.meformayor.com

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