No Short Cuts on Straight Path

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy has asked a NYS Supreme Court judge to bar 37 known gang members from hanging out together within a carefully drawn two-square-mile “safety zone” in Wyandanch. “Gangs have the propensity to take over schoolyards, street corners, playgrounds and many areas within a downtown district,” he said at an August 16th press conference flanked by SCPD brass, community activists, and frustrated residents.

Predictably, the Suffolk County chapter of the New York Civil Liberties Union has raised concerns about profiling, due process and the legality of banning people from public places. But Suffolk’s legal maneuver isn’t entirely new or novel. Los Angeles starting getting gang injunctions in the late 1980’s and today, the city has reportedly won 37 injunctions covering 57 gangs and a total of 11,000 gang members. Court decisions nationwide have been mixed, but carefully worded and limited injunctions have survived constitutional muster and a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Criminal Justice Research suggests that injunctions in California’s urban areas with significant gang penetration have effectively reduced serious crime by 12-17%.

Whether Suffolk’s injunction would produce similar results remains an open question, but it’s safe to say that forcing these 37 bad guys to find new friends won’t solve the myriad problems in Wyandanch, nor will it prevent gang organizing and its resultant violence, drug dealing and other criminal activity. Banish them from Straight Path and there will be another 37 young men and women ready to take their place. And 37 more after that. 

Why? It’s not that the bad guys are brilliant. Gang recruiting is easy given the right environment and an absence of other options. Kids join gangs because they want a sense of belonging and because they have nothing else to do.  Beyond the obvious benefits of protection, potential financial gain and a daily adrenaline rush, gangs serve as a surrogate family for young people, creating a sense of identity, social support, solidarity and kinship.

Want to run gangs out of Wyandanch? Go beyond the traditional suppression efforts that play well at press conferences and with community members at their wits’ end. Try funding – or maybe even just stop cutting – youth services. Clean-up and expand playgrounds, teen centers and public parks. Foster a renewed sense of community through outreach efforts, neighborhood activities and educational programs. Strengthen and support families.  Give schools the resources they need to do their jobs. Reward the kids doing great things and encourage leadership. Support meaningful job opportunities, economic development, small business creation and success. Do that and we won’t need to worry about keeping 37 bad guys out of a safety zone; we’ll be inviting tens of thousands of young people in.

Author: Jeffrey Reynolds

Dr. Jeffrey L. Reynolds is a nonprofit executive with more than 20 years worth of experience launching and running health and human service programs on Long Island. He’s currently the Executive Director of the Long Island Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (LICADD). With offices in Mineola, Ronkonkoma and Riverhead, LICADD provides a wide variety of addiction services and prevention programs to adults, adolescents and their families. Prior to joining LICADD, Dr. Reynolds worked for the Long Island Association for AIDS Care for 19 years, where he finished his tenure as Vice President for Public Affairs, responsible for government relations, resource development, strategic marketing, and communications. In 1997, he co-founded BiasHELP of Long Island, an organization dedicated to assisting victims of hate crimes and their families. As BiasHELP’s Chief Operating Officer, Dr. Reynolds secured federal, state and local grants and launched a wide array of crime victim assistance services and school-based violence prevention programs. Dr. Reynolds served as Chair of Suffolk County's Heroin/Opiate Epidemic Advisory Panel, is on the Executive Committee of the Nassau County Heroin Prevention Task Force and serves on Suffolk’s Welfare-To-Work Commission. Dr. Reynolds is the longest serving member of the NYS AIDS Advisory Council, first appointed by the NYS Senate Majority Leader in 1994 and re-appointed three times since then. He has authored more than 200 news and op-ed articles that have appeared in a wide variety of publications and is consistently used as an expert source for substance abuse, addiction, HIV/AIDS and public health information by local and national radio, television, Internet and print outlets. Dr. Reynolds has received numerous awards for his community service and leadership and was named one of the “50 most influential Long Islanders" of 2010, 2011 and 2012 by the Long Island Press. Dr. Reynolds holds a Bachelors degree in psychology from Dowling College, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Long Island University and a doctorate from Stony Brook University’s School of Social Welfare. He's also a Certified Employee Assistance Professional (CEAP) and a U.S. Department of Transportation-qualified Substance Abuse Professional (SAP). Dr. Reynolds lives in Smithtown and has three children.

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