It has become an accepted tenet that kids will rarely listen to their parents but seldom fail to imitate them. Communicating the message has never been a good substitute for 'showing up' and embodying the message.
You prevent kids from joining gangs by offering after-school programs, sports, mentoring, and positive engagement with adults. You intervene with gang members by offering alternatives and employment to help redirect their lives. You deal with areas of high gang crime activity with real community policing. We know what works.
Our best selves tell us that 'there but for the grace of God... ' and that, in the end, there is no distance, really, between us and them. It is just us. Our best and noble hope is to imitate the God we believe in. The God who has abundant room in God's grief and heart for us all.
We need a pope to usher in a new era of inclusion, the end of a sinful clericalism, and a strong sense of duty to those on society's margins. The 1 billion faithful long for a leader who is fearless and driven - not by terror but by love.
I know now that gang warfare is not the Middle East or Northern Ireland. There is violence in gang violence, but there is no conflict. It is not 'about something.' It is the language of the despondent and traumatized.
I would hope that government officials have a healthy respect for the complexity of the gang problem. They should never lose sight of the fact that there are human beings involved. There is no single solution.
So complex are all the ingredients that cause gang membership that it seems virtually impossible to isolate one solution that can address them all and thereby manufacture a hope for the future upon which these kids can rely.
Relapse happens, especially when you're dealing with folks who are frankly the least likely to succeed based on their own pasts and difficulties. We can work with the most likely to succeed. I'm not interested in that.
If the Los Angeles Police Department had enough officers, it could focus on one part of the community and stay there long enough to know and respect the people the officers are called on to protect and serve.
We are among the handful of countries that has difficulty distinguishing juveniles from adults where crime is concerned. We are convinced that if a child commits an adult crime, that kid is magically transformed into an adult. Consequently, we try juveniles as adults.
Delegations from all over the world visit Homeboy Industries and scratch their heads as we tell them of our difficulty in placing our people in jobs after their time with us. Americans' seeming refusal to believe in a person's ability to redeem himself strikes these folks as foreign indeed.