Yes, the Mission District is the heart of urban appeal in the San Francisco Latino community. And yes, it is a hipster haunt for up and coming San Franciscans of all ethnicities. However, a less appealing aspect to the Mission is that it is home to two main gangs, the Nortainos and the Sureños. On the daily, gangs pursue the streets for opposing members.
There have been many incidents when gang members have mistaken people on the street for other gang members and targeted them. In the month of September, there have been at least three serous incidents of stabbings and robberies that involved non-affiliated victims who were attacked because they wore the wrong color within a gang territory.
There has been “proactive police work to cut down on gang related incidents,” says Seargent Molina of the Mission District San Francisco Police Department. To crack down on the gang violence, the Mission Police Department is getting to know who the affiliated gang members are. They have placed undercover cops to check up on them.
The police are not the only ones trying to help cut down on gang related violence. Judy Grossman has been working at Mission High School for 10 years, and has created a program called the Athletic Scholarship Advancement Program, or ASAP. There are 300 students in this program. “I started a program at Mission High School that is an anti-gang program that keeps kids involved in sports as an alternative for high schoolers, so that they don’t go into gangs,” says Grossman.
Seargent Molina points out that a program like ASAP is useful because kids are getting drafted into gangs at 12 to 13 years of age. “Kids getting recruited is affecting our community, kids not going to school, getting hooked up with drugs, and then not doing their work at school, this affects all their family,” says Seargent Molina.
Jeff Adachi, a member of The Mission Peace Collaborative says, “What we need is a solid alternative to gangs, to provide the love that gangs provide and the support that gangs provide.” Programs like ASAP that give the love and sense of place is exactly what the Mission needs to give kids alternative ways to feel a part of something.
Grossman explains her ideas on why kids get involved with gangs. She agrees with Adachi, “For a lot of kids, especially low income [kids] who come from a background of [families] and without education, gangs provide a peer group.” Grossman explains that most of these younger students just want a place or group to belong to, and that gangs are able to provide that. ASAP, however, promises a positive community for them, while giving youth a place in their community.
An article on the website SF Public Defender states that in 2007, Los Angeles had a 50% drop in killings in South L.A. neighborhoods after the police started using a different strategy: working with ex-gang members and programs like ASAP that give an alternative opportunity for kids. It is organizations like ASAP, as well as forward thinking police departments, that will help stop the youth of our community from turning to gangs instead of choosing a better path towards success.