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Bright lights and movies foil gangs, drop crime

September 9, 2008 |  5:41 pm

Nightpark_3 Extended nighttime hours and family-friendly activities at parks in eight of Los Angeles' most violent neighborhoods led to a 17% drop in crime in those areas this summer and a whopping 86% drop in homicides, according to Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's office. The program, called Summer Night Lights ran from July 4 to Labor Day, and offered movie nights and other events during peak gang hours, four nights a week. Given that police estimate that each murder, in addition to the anguish it causes families and neighborhoods, costs taxpayers $1 million, it certainly seems like antigang news to celebrate. So kudos to Chief Bill Bratton, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and especially to the mayor's gang czar, Jeff Carr, for working together to make this program a success.

This reminds me of a similar effort made by some women in Boyle Heights a few years ago. When they decided to take back a park that had become a gang hangout, they didn't call the mayor or the police (or get private funding). The neighborhood women simply set up some card tables and sat down to play Loteria and other card games late into the night. Night after night, the women would play cards and eat sandwiches, chatting and laughing, and the gang members would look on, baffled and kind of cranky at this invasion of their turf. But finally, the bangers gave in and found another hangout. When I asked some of the gang members why they ultimately moved, one looked at me like I was crazy and said: "Yo, we had to leave. You can't disrespect your mother."

But back to Summer Night Lights, here's my question. This concept, nighttime recreation as anti-gang strategy, has been around forever. Remember midnight basketball leagues? So if this is such an effective way to prevent gang violence, save lives and even recruit some of the kids into jobs for the city (some of the at-risk kids helped out at the parks), why isn't this an annual program?  City council members could get behind this and raise funds for programs in their own districts without breaking a sweat. And county supervisors certainly wouldn't miss the modest amounts these programs cost.

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