Rethinking Anti-Gang Policies
Date:  08-06-2014

Experts say “arresting the problem away” is not the way to curb gangs and violence
Are we combatting

The following appeared in Stateline on August 1, 2014. This article is part two of a two-part series. Read part one Here. In Ongoing Border Crisis, Cities and States Revisit Anti-Gang Policies

By Teresa Wiltz

Back in El Salvador, a 15-year-old boy is doing what 15-year-old boys everywhere do. He’s hanging out, laughing and joking, when a buddy approaches him with a demand: Give me your cell phone. The teen refuses, not realizing his friend is a member of a local gang that makes a habit out of grabbing phones and using them for extortion. They call it “asking for rent.” At first, nothing happens. But a week later, the gang strong-arms his girlfriend into luring the teen out of his home. Instead of a date with his sweetheart, the teen is beaten — badly — by the gang. He’s left with a warning: The next time, you won’t walk away with your life.

Terrified, the teen flees the country, running to the U.S. in an arduous and highly dangerous journey — one that 62,000 other Central American kids have made since October. His hope is to be reunited with his father in the Washington, D.C. area.

What the teen, who is now being held in detention, may not understand is that the very gangs he’s fleeing actually got their start decades ago in the U.S. Critics say the way cities and states dealt with gangs 20 or more years ago greatly contributed to the recent surge in Central American kids crossing the U.S.-Mexico border alone. In the past, cities like Los Angeles dealt with troublesome gang crime by trying to arrest the problem away, conducting massive sweeps and deporting gang members by the thousands back to Central America. Yesterday’s policy has become today’s problem, gang experts say. Read more