According to Los Angeles Police Department reports, gang-related homicides were down more than 20 percent last year. But gangs were still the cause of the majority of killings in Los Angeles.
There are an estimated 450 active gangs with more than 45,000 gang members. Some of the most vulnerable potential gang members are children. Giving youth the support they need before they get into a gang is a joint effort being made by our police, our communities, and our schools.
“The way I see it now, gangs are a waste of your time. You’re asking either to die or to try to live the life of a risk taker," said 17-year-old Matthew Herrera walking with Rudy Trujillo through an alley that has been a war zone between two rival gangs for years.
Matthew walks up to a massive wall that shows signs of being painted and re-painted many times.
“This was the first wall I actually tagged," he said.
Matthew was on his way to continuing a three-generation cycle of men in his family being in a gang until Trujillo, a case manager for Communities in Schools, came into his life.
“Rudy showed me how to make changes in my life now that would change my future. I have goals now,” said Matthew.
Matthew's only goal used to be to avoid getting into fights with gang classmates. Today, he gives his classmates hugs after being transferred into a neutral charter school.
“Right now, everything is just a big opportunity for me. And now I can get out of my old self and start building a new me so I can become something in the future,” he said.
Communities in Schools is the largest dropout prevention organization in the country. Twenty years ago, the Los Angeles chapter partnered with the LAPD Valley Bureau to create the San Fernando Valley Coalition On Gangs.
"A lot of these kids are facing the challenge of joining gangs within the schools," said Trujillo. "We begin to mentor them, we begin to help them, and make sure they're focusing on their education, getting the counseling and mentoring they need to stay out of trouble, and doing well in our schools."
In his former school, Matthew was constantly being asked where he was from, which really meant ‘which gang are you with?’ He was forced to affiliate himself with San Fernando or Pacoima, and one of the two rival gangs in each community. When he refused to do so, he was jumped.
At one point he was spending more time in the principal’s office than in the classroom because he was fighting so much. Now he is picking up books instead of being picked on by gang members. He went from a 1.2 GPA to a 3.5.