Friday, March 12, 2004

A reader recently emailed me wondering if I could provide a figure on the dollar cost that street gangs impose on society. Great question. And I wish I had the answer. In fact, I've been trying to pull together as much as I can on this topic and every time I think I have it, there's more.

In a future posting, I'll list some obvious costs like the budgets for the DA's office and how much of that resource is devoted to street gang prosecutions. Ditto for the public defender's office, the County jail system, the State prison system, and the welfare system that frankly pays to feed, house and take care of the wives and children of convicted and unconvicted street gangsters. In addition to that though, are the unseen costs that can never be calculated. One bears scrutiny.

In all the interviews I've done with victims, families of victims and regular citizens in communities savaged by street gangs, to a person, have all either moved to other parts of the county or state or plan to do so as soon as possible. Here's just one case.

This guy, I'll call him ROBERTO, moved from ECHO PARK all the way out to FONTANA. He's a family guy with three kids and a wife that works as well. He works in SANTA MONICA as a building custodian. He got out of ECHO PARK, which he liked a lot and was close to his family, because, according to him, the CHOLOS were trying to influence his kids to join gangs. He did what any person would do. He moved.

To save them, he took the family to the most affordable place he could find -- FONTANA. Now here's this guy who doesn't make a lot of money who has to leave his house in FONTANA at 5:30 in the morning to make it to SANTA MONICA by 7:30. Anybody who's been on the 10 WESTBOUND in the morning and EASTBOUND in the afternoon knows what clusterfuck the 10 is. He's burning up a lot more bucks in gas and wear and tear on the car than he would otherwise need to if he could still live in ECHO PARK. These are dollars he could be spending on improving his life and the lives of his kids. But to save his kids, he makes the sacrifice in time, money and resources. Scale this man's experience up by the thousands and tens of thousands and we're talking billions of dollars a year -- fuel, wasted man hours, pollution, time away from his family, money better spent on other things like books or whatever. The negative impact on society can never be adequately calculated.

Just something to think about the next time somebody tells you that smoking the occasional doobie or snorting a line is a victimless crime. The country of full of victims. They just don't have "activists" looking out for their interests.

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