Gang War Talk
The president puts few dollars behind his promise to ‘keep young people out of gangs.’
Thursday, February 17, 2005
When President Bush announced during his recent State of the Union address that he would introduce a new $150 million anti-gang program, overseen by First Lady Laura Bush, ears perked up from Washington to Salinas. Police chiefs praised Bush for addressing gang violence, and church leaders (the program will give money to churches and other community groups that work with at-risk youth) applauded the president for promoting a solution.
“Here we have a sitting president expressing concern over youth violence,” says Salinas Police Chief Dan Ortega. “I’ve never heard anything like that in a State of the Union address before.”
The president dedicated four sentences—and his wife’s leadership—to the surprise policy proposal.
“We need to focus on giving young people, especially young men in our cities, better options than apathy, or gangs, or jail,” Bush said. “Tonight I propose a three-year initiative to help organizations keep young people out of gangs, and show young men an ideal of manhood that respects women and rejects violence.”
The initiative sent a clear message to cops, politicians and gang-intervention counselors alike: this president is serious about ending gang violence.
A week later, those same people are saying that the President’s 2006 budget sends a very different message.
US Rep. Sam Farr criticized the president for hyping his new gang plan while cutting many programs that aim to keep kids in school and drugs out of schools. “You put your money where your mouth is,” Farr said. “You looked at the budget on Monday. Where’s the first lady? There’s a paltry $50 million for the entire country while at the same time he’s slashing programs—where schools, social service workers, and law-enforcement are already working to keep kids out of gangs—to the tune of about $900 million.”
Indeed, finding any mention of the new initiative—much less the money earmarked to fund the program—in the 2,300-page, $2.57 trillion budget isn’t easy. It’s so difficult, in fact, that Farr’s office needed some help.
“We couldn’t find any mention of the gang initiative anywhere,” says Jessica Schafer, Farr’s press secretary in Washington. So, she says, Schafer called the White House Office of Management and Budget. There, staff directed her to a small section in the Department of Health and Human Service’s budget, called the Compassion and Capitol Fund—a pool of money that goes to charitable groups, including faith-based organizations.
The president’s 2006 budget gives $100 million to the Compassion Capital Fund—$50 million more than in the previous year. “Among the priorities within the 2006 proposal is an emphasis on supporting anti-gang efforts through community and faith-based organizations,” it reads.
“There’s no guarantee,” Farr says, adding that Monterey County would likely compete with other cities and counties to receive any of these federal dollars.
Compared to the funding that the Bush spending plan proposes to cut, funneling $50 million a year, for three years, for the entire US to fight gang violence, sounds like pocket change.
“Salinas could use that entire $50 million,” Farr says. “In the State of the Union, [Bush] put the first lady out on a limb with a great idea, but in presenting the budget to Congress, he cut the limb off.”
Farr is referring to the administration’s budget, which would axe numerous programs—about $900 million worth—that aim to help “at-risk” kids, to keep them in school and to prevent them from joining gangs, and that work to rehabilitated youth after they are incarcerated.
California alone this year received a total of $52.7 million from Safe and Drug Free School and Communities grants. Of this money, $443,763 went to schools in Monterey County. It funds gang prevention and intervention, conflict resolution and peer mediation, alcohol and drug use prevention, community service projects and parent involvement programs, among others.
This money could be lost next year.
“It’s a sign of the times,” Ortega says. “With this administration, and this budget, that is what we’re going to see: a lot of robbing Peter to pay Paul. That’s what you’re seeing here.
“The cops’ funding has pretty much been drained out and it has all been funneled over to homeland security, which really doesn’t help us in local law enforcement with things like gang violence. We certainly would like to see a change in that trend.”