Stopping and Preventing Gangs: There's No Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing

Paralleling the nation-wide growth of criminal gangs, is the growth of so-called gang prevention groups run by "former" gang members. The most well-known organization of this kind is Homeboy Industries of Los Angeles. Sacrilegious as it may seem to some readers, this venerated group of gangsters and its iconic leader, Father Boyle, are actually part of our (growing) gang problem.

The reason is, "There is no right way to do the wrong thing." Homeboys' practice of giving criminal gang members jobs, education, and respect without FIRST requiring that they totally "jump out" or disavow their gang membership, has NOT reduced gang activity in LA, because it's wrong in principle. It is the most misleading and harmful message you can send gang members.It suggests that moral lives can be built on immoral foundations. It reinforces the false belief that gang members' problems are caused by lack of education, jobs, money, or by a tough home life. These challenges are effect -- not cause. Gang members' problems are caused by nothing but their commitment to an evil, mutant lifestyle that abandons moral/spiritual values and sanctions racist, violent, promiscuous behavior.

Homeboy Industries' compassion for gang members is dangerously misdirected, because it emphasizes legitimizing -- rather than abandoning the gangster culture. Start with their name. A "homeboy" is a gang member. Move on to the appearance. Homeboys' employees are allowed to look and dress like the gang members they still are. Check out their proudly advertised product line on their website. Does anyone in the nation BUT gangsters want to dress themselves or their little children in "Homeboy" beanies and "I'm a Gangster "(homeboy) t-shirts? Finally, consider Homeboy Industries' ultimate goals. With LA's countless corporations begging for qualified workers, Homeboy Industries' mega-commitment to cottage industries encourages many of its clients to avoid joining the mainstream. Their employees are encouraged to permanently remain in Homeboys' sub-culture of racial exclusiveness and ultra-leftist/anti-law enforcement philosophy.

It's arguable that when organizations like Homeboy Industries sanitize, educate, and employ men and women who are still gang members in their hearts, they've actually created greater menaces to society, because now they have a legitimate 'cover' to work under.

I've worked in gang prevention programs longer than Homeboy Industries has been in existence. At my present school, West Valley Leadership Academy in LA's San Fernando Valley, we have what many feel is the most successful gang rehabilitation program in the nation. The difference between our program and all the others is quite simple. Programs like Homeboy Industries legitimize, glorify and hesitate to criticize the gang culture. West Valley Leadership Academy teaches its gangster clients to be ashamed of -- disavow -- and abandon every vestige of it. Organizations like Homeboy turn illiterate, unemployed gangsters into educated, employed gangsters. West Valley turns illiterate, unemployed gangsters into moral, upright, 'normal' men and women. There's no comparison.

Homeboys' motto, "Nothing stops a bullet like a job," is not accurate. Nothing stops a bullet like quitting the gang you joined. Not "laying low," going back to school or getting a job...but entirely disavowing your gang ties. Telling the fellow criminals you've always associated with that you are no longer a member, supporter, or friend of their illegal activity. Then, and not until then are former gangsters ready to begin rebuilding their lives with education, counseling, and job training, because not until that point do ex-gang members have any real foundation on which to build.

Organizations like Homeboy Industries will never truly contribute to our life-and-death struggle with gangs until they stop legitimizing, accommodating, and making excuses for this scourge. Gang members who are willing to quit and denounce their former gangs and lifestyles can be helped. Those who won't -- can't be. The only truly effective gang-prevention programs are those who find the moral courage to tell their clients that there is no other way.