Executive Director's Column
May 4, 2005
Over the past week, we have focused on two major issues mayors face 2005 gang violence and the "Reentry Issue" which is a name we have given to cope with 630,000 persons in prison returning to cities, large and small, this year, and over two million released to come home to our cities over the next three years.
2005 Gang Summit Washington (DC) April 26-27
Mayors, police chiefs, representatives of the anti-gang organizations, members of Congress, Justice and Homeland Security representatives and White House staff all came together at The United States Conference of Mayors 2005 Gang Summit to assess where we are with gangs in America.
Over the past few years since 9/11, our organization has focused primarily on the homeland issues caused by the threat of international terrorism.
Recently, violent gang activity has emerged as a serious threat in the suburban cities and outlying counties. And we have also seen violent gang activity in rural areas.
The American public generally associates violent gang activity as strictly urban. It has to do with our pop culture of movies showing the 1890 Gangs of New York, West Side Story, a number of movies and constant TV law and order and cops and robbers programs for decades. TV, the most powerful of all communication devices in the history of the world, has continued to depict violent gangs in America as "this terrible urban problem."
Today, violent gangs are as American as apple pie. They love big cars, guns, the malls, nice homes and high-line shopping. They want what so many Americans want, have or dream about having. Everyone wants the American dream. And the national networks and home grown violent gangs in urban, suburban and rural America have money big money to buy all of the above.
That's the picture we were given last week at our 2005 Gang Summit.
Conference President Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic chaired our meeting, and we are thankful that Conference Vice President Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill invited and brought our good friend California Senator Dianne Feinstein to join us and share her insights to the cause she has championed for years against the violence in America. As a former mayor of San Francisco, most active with the Conference of Mayors after she was sworn in after the assassination of George Moscone, she has spent her years in the Senate boldly advocating her deepest concern about violent crime, street use of automatic weapons and the new brand of gang violence we have in our nation in 2005.
Feinstein, along with Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, have introduced a bipartisan bill in the Senate which authorizes $762.5 million over five years, $500 million to support local efforts against violent gangs including witness protection programs; $262.5 million would be used for intervention and prevention.
O'Neill, our incoming president, is bringing to Chicago at our Annual Meeting next month a resolution endorsing the Feinstein legislation entitled, "The Gang Prevention and Effective Deterrence Act."
We appreciate Senator Feinstein's leadership on the gang issue in 2005, as well as other times when she has stood and acted with the nation's mayors against crime and violence. She so eloquently stated that the mafia, of the 1930s and since, do not kill and murder like the gangs in urban, suburbia, and rural America in 2005. She cites statistics showing that in 1980, America hosted 2,000 gangs and now we have over 26,000 gangs. She says in 1980 we had 100,000 gang members and today we have 750,000 members. She has walked the streets and neighborhood for her native state and recalled walking on one street where 30 people were killed in a relatively short time period.
We also were most fortunate in having Dr. Scott Decker, Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, University of Missouri St. Louis, who gave a brilliant overview of gangs in America. Decker contrasted the differing perceptions law enforcement and schools hold relating to gang members. His grasp of the challenge we face and his understanding of the significance of our role is unique in America. No doubt, mayors want to hear more from him as we give new bipartisan political energy against the gang violence so pervasive in our nation.
With experts, members of Congress and the Administration, we learn but the best part of learning comes from each other. Trenton, Chicago, Paramount (CA), North Little Rock, Las Angeles, Gary, Long Beach, Elizabeth (NJ), Alexandria (VA), Providence (RI), and Fairfax County (VA) all shared best practices, which is our best way of learning and training. While so many violent gangs are national, all delegates warned that each violent gang creates its own culture, depending on the culture of the area.
For the first time ever, Chicago links violent gangs in Chicago to international terrorism.
We also learned that very young people are being recruited to do drug sales as mere puppets for older persons.
Gangs are being run by adults and innocent children at an early age are being recruited on the internet to join violent gangs.
We continue to thank the COPS Program at the Department of Justice for their assistance. All mayors agree that these initiatives must be continued and we hope to announce soon our next steps as we confront the 2005 violent gangs in urban, suburban and rural America.
National Conference of Black Mayors/USCM Joint Forum on City Leadership for Safe and Successful Reentry
Two million people will be released from prison over the next three years. This year, 630,000 people will be released and they are coming home to our cities, large and small, throughout our nation. Questions raised at our Joint Forum on City Leadership for Safe and Successful Reentry at the National Conference of Black Mayors in Ohio centered on our people that are coming home not from the Iraq War but they are coming home from American prisons. Are they the same people who left our streets and neighborhoods before they went to prison? Are they better off or worse? What are the implications of reentry to our cities and mayors? Are violent gangs competing with us as we try to develop opportunities for work and successful reentry up against gangs who offer more violence, drugs, guns and money?
Philadelphia Mayor John Street co-chaired along with Inglewood (CA) Mayor Roosevelt Dorn, Vice President of NCBM, a historic USCM/NCBM joint forum on the reentry challenge. Our forum was sponsored and advocated through our Mayors Center for Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.
While faith-based initiatives were stressed as a part of the reentry challenge, mayors and community leaders all stressed that the faith-based community cannot solve this problem alone.
Best practices from a number of cities were presented and the main thrust of the discussions was prevention on the front-end of our young people's lives, learning about innovations cities are designing to prevent our youth from resorting to violent activity alone or joining a violent organized gang.
Street spends New Year's Day with prisoners each year. In Memphis, Mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton meets with every prisoner coming back to his city and they sign a contract to the future.
We are pleased to have been a part of the National Conference of Black Mayors Annual Meeting. We congratulate the new Executive Director, Vanessa Williams and we wish her the best as we work together on this common challenge of "reentry" which involves so many of our people coming home to our cities and into our neighborhoods. Together we can learn and together we will work mayor to mayor and with faith-based organizations, state and county officials, Congress and the Administration as well as the business community to provide the safe, secure and successful reentry of 630,000 persons returning from prison this year to our cities and the balance totaling two million of our own coming home. They are coming home, we hope, with a second chance of education and a job instead of violence, drugs, and guns so prevalent in America today. While we celebrate our victories and learn from our best practices, we have a long way to go as we strive to meet head-on our American prisoners now housed in America's prisons who are now coming home looking for a second chance. Let us hope and pray that the second chance will not be violence through guns, drugs and money. Instead let us hope that working together with our faith-based and business groups, it will be a second chance for hope an education, a job and a paycheck.
Chicago 73rd Annual Meeting, June 10-14, 2005
Register now for our 73rd Annual Meeting in Chicago. It is a meeting you-ll never forget. All mayors come to Chicago! Register now by contacting Carol Edwards at 202-293-7330.
See all of you there as Host Mayor Daley and Conference President Plusquellic join all of us for a productive and meaningful 73rd Annual Conference of Mayors.