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Gangs, Not Global Warming, Worry Central Valley Latinos

Vida en el Valle, News Report, Ray Estrada Posted: Apr 20, 2007

FRESNO -- Former California governor and current state Attorney General Jerry Brown wanted to talk about global warming, but about 25 Valley Latino leaders he met with last week called for a summit to discuss how to crack down on the growing gang problem.

Seeing no one who wanted to talk about climate changes, Brown agreed to meet again to discuss the gang problem at an as-yet-undetermined date.

"A Fresno company has a lawsuit against the state on greenhouse gases ... the world is watching that one," Brown said. "Cows cause gases, don't they?"

But on a more serious note, Brown, the state's top law enforcement official, said the state's overcrowded prisons and jails are caused by gang members, who keep returning to custody because they plot more crimes while behind bars.

"It's not the Department of Corrections, it's the department of failure," Brown said of the state's prison system. "Why do 70 percent (of inmates) come back? ... The prison system is feeding itself."

While the current governor and some lawmakers talk a great deal about solving the prison problem, Brown said, "There's a lot of sloganeering."

After several leaders asked Brown what could be done about graffiti, other crimes and gangs, Orange Cove Mayor Vctor Lpez asked the attorney general if he would hold an urban summit on gang violence with about 15 other Valley mayors. Brown agreed. "I'd like to do that," Brown said.

Fresno Mayor Alan Autry earlier this year met with other Valley leaders and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to call for a gang summit. A few weeks later, the summit was held in Sacramento with mayors and police chiefs from Los Angeles and other cities as well as Fresno and sheriffs and city officials from smaller cities in the Valley.

At that meeting, officials agreed more prevention and intervention of gangs and potential new members is needed as much as suppression of their activities.

Brown took that one step further and said while many more educational and employment opportunities are needed in rural Valley communities, imprisoned gang members must be given a skill that would lead to employment when they are released. If not, he said, they are most likely to return to their previous gang associates and a life of crime.

Brown, who was the state's governor in the 1980s, returned to politics as Oakland mayor in the 1990s and was elected again to state office last year. He said he was the only man ever to be elected governor first and later be elected attorney general. His father, Pat Brown, and several other California politicians, were elected attorney general first and later won the state's top job.

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