Federalize gang crimes, L.A. mayor urges
In his plea to a U.S. Senate panel, Villaraigosa says gang violence is a national problem that needs to be combated nationally.
By Johanna Neuman, Times Staff Writer
1:20 PM PDT, June 5, 2007
WASHINGTON -- Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa made a plea today to federalize gang-related crimes, saying that more Americans have died from gang violence in the last four years than in Iraq.
"Since 2001, more than 4,000 people have lost their lives to gang violence in California alone," Villaraigosa told the Senate Judiciary Committee. "That's more American lives than we've lost in Iraq ... more American lives than we lost on Sept. 11."
Endorsing a bill by Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) that would toughen federal penalties for gang violence and provide billion for prevention and intervention, Villaraigosa said that "gang violence is a problem of national scope, and it must be confronted on a national scale."
With gang-related violence up 15% in Los Angeles last year, the Los Angeles City Council last month approved the mayor's gang reduction plan as part of the city's fiscal 2007-08 spending plan. But the city needs an infusion of federal dollars to make the proposal a reality.
"Cities need the federal government to make an investment and play its part," said Villaraigosa. . The federal contribution, he added, "is essential."
Feinstein agreed, saying that the nation is "outmanned, outgunned and in the midst of a national crisis."
Los Angeles Police Chief William J. Bratton also testified, saying the bill "recognizes what cops already know: that we can't arrest our way out of a gang crime problem."
Saying that "the police alone can't own the gang problem," Bratton said, "Society must step up to address intervention and prevention, and the ... bill is a major and essential step in the right direction.
But Feinstein's bill, which she has trumpeted for a decade, may have a difficult time making its way through Congress. Though the House passed a similar version of the bill last year, the Senate has yet to consider the idea. And the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), again today voiced his concern about mandatory sentencing schemes and about federalizing local crimes.
In a statement, he said, "I do not believe that sweeping new federal crimes, which federalize the kind of street crime that states have traditionally addressed...are the right way to go."