(Part 2 of a three-part series on gangs in Long Beach)
by Doug Haubert
Long Beach City Prosecutor
Last week, I wrote about the death and devastation that follows the Gang Life. Gang membership typically leads to only two outcomes: a sudden, violent death on the streets, or a slow death behind bars.
I told the story of one particular gang member, Bryan Soriano-Gutierrez, 18, who I met when I was on a ride-along with Long Beach police officers. He sold and used methamphetamine (meth), but you couldn’t tell right away by talking to him. He had a straight, brisk stride when he walked up to the officers I was with. He spoke with a confidence and energy that you would associate with almost any 18-year-old.
Bryan Soriano-Gutierrez, as it turned out, would be murdered four weeks after I met him. He was shot dead by an unknown assailant at midnight a few blocks from where we met. While at a glance he might have looked like almost any other 18-year-old, his decision to join a gang would separate Soriano-Gutierrez from others.
More recently, I was talking to a friend of mine about meeting Soriano-Gutierrez and the circumstances of his death. My friend lives in Long Beach, but in a neighborhood closer to the Orange County border than the central Long Beach streets where Soriano-Gutierrez lived and died. My friend’s jaw dropped. Sure, he lives in Long Beach and, of course, he hears about the occasional shootings, but he does not associate such actions with his Long Beach.
I’ve seen others react the same way. They think Long Beach is two separate cities, one an urban jungle where, according to news reports, there are shootings, robberies, drug dealings, and other miscellaneous mayhem. In contrast, the other Long Beach where my friend lives has well-kept suburban neighborhoods, safe parks and clean streets.
This vision of separateness is really just an illusion. The truth is that Soriano-Gutierrez’s Long Beach is also my friend’s Long Beach. Anyone who thinks of Long Beach as A Tale of Two Cities is off by one.
In last week’s commentary, I also talked about the tragic and heartbreaking murder of Melody Ross, a high-school student who had absolutely no gang involvement. She was shot by a gang member named Tom Vinson, who was convicted of her murder and sentenced to serve 155 years in state prison.
Many people know that Melody Ross’s murder was part of the motivation for me to run for city prosecutor. Like many parents who read about Ross’s murder, my reaction was one of anger, and since I have two daughters, one who will soon be a high-school student, my anger was quickly followed by concern. I decided to return to the City Prosecutor’s Office (where my legal career began as a deputy city prosecutor) in order to help make a difference in our city.
I am proud that my office, working closely with LBPD, is aggressively targeting the most active gang members through gang injunctions and other actions. We are going after gang leadership because doing so ensures our limited resources are directed at those most responsible for street violence. Also, aiming at the most active and violent gang leaders interferes with the ability of gangs to recruit new members.
Why is that important? Because gangs are now recruiting kids as young as 12 years old. Gang leaders know they need to recruit kids at a young age because virtually every day in LA County another gang member is murdered or sent to prison for life. One thing is clear– we will not be able to control the growth of gangs unless we stop gang recruitment of kids.
I am also proud of our new Parent Accountability and Chronic Truancy (PACT) program, which targets kids and their parents when kids commit crimes or skip too much school. Under a new state law, kids in grades K–8 who miss more than 10 percent of the school year without any excuse are deemed “chronic truants.”
Studies show that chronic truants are less likely to earn a high-school diploma, more likely to become victims of crime, and, not surprisingly, chronic truants are front-line targets for gang recruitment. Gangs take to school dropouts like sharks to small fish.
Because we are one city, and because gang violence has the potential to affect any one of us and any time, it is time that Long Beach focused on the gang problem like never before. Timing is critical, not just because of the reported rise in gang activity nationwide, but because the state’s budget cuts are causing the early release of criminals from jail. LA County will be hit harder than other counties.
Those who think gang crime is someone else’s problem need to think again. I hope this commentary, and the one I wrote last week, will help people understand the gang problem for what it is– a citywide issue. Our gang injunction program, which suppresses and disrupts gang activity, and our PACT program, which makes it harder for gangs to recruit kids, are only a small part of what needs to be done in Long Beach.