Friday, July 11, 2008

And Now A Word From "Ms. Impolitic"

Day eight of the Wendy McCaw's News-Press surge against Mayor Marty Blum. Not only is the blame game continuing, it is spreading to other fronts.

Gina Perry, who writes a "political column" for the Daily Sound jumped into the fray Thursday with this:

In May, I questioned in this column, whether or not our civic leaders had the cojones to drive gangs out of Santa Barbara. Apparently the answer to my query is a resounding "no."

Our law enforcement officers need to be given the authority to stop and search anyone who appears to be a member of a gang.

I don't know whether or not our civic leaders have "cojones," but I do know that they have something that Ms. Perry evidently doesn't: the brains to have passed high school civics.

How else can one explain her ignorance of the fact that her proposal to give the cops authority to stop and search people based solely on how they are dressed violates the Fourth Amendment?

Or her assumption that the Mayor and the City Council would have the power to pass an ordinance that is blatantly Unconstitutional?

There's a term that describes what Perry proposes: it's called a "police state."

Perry went on to write:

The message to gang members - if you dress like a gangbanger in Santa Barbara, you will be stopped and searched, don't dress like a gangbanger or get out of town.

Perry's message is no more constructive than that of recent city council candidate Frank Hotchkiss, who said he would tell gang members to "get out of the gang or get out of Santa Barbara."

I can assure you, it will take more than tough talk to solve the gang problem.

* * *

The News-Press' Thursday editorial asserted that City Hall officials "had blood on their hands" and called for the implementation of a gang injunction.

I'll get to that "blood on the hands" allegation in a moment, but the most informed explanation of the pros and cons of "gang injunctions" was posted over on SantaBarbara's Blog. Here's an excerpt:

Gang injunctions require a major time and resource commitment from the police department, the city attorney, and the DA. The mayor and others who resist the injunction do not like them because they limit civil liberties. No one wants to live in a society where the government tells people where they can congregate and with whom they can congregate with and what they can or cannot wear. The question for the community is the following: Are the existence of criminal street gangs a price we pay for living in a free society or do we accept a little government control of behavior in order to limit the negative impact of criminal street gangs upon the rest of society?

The author was identified only as "The Blog’s resident District Attorney." I don't know who that might have been, but whoever it was knows what he or she is talking about.

As for that "blood on their hands" allegation, why are the mayor, the council and the city administrator the only officials the News-Press seeks to excoriate for failing to control gang activity? What about the police chief, the sheriff, the district attorney, the chief probation officer, the courts?

While I have no reason to believe that any of these people or institutions aren't doing everything they can to deal with this problem, all have something the mayor and council don't have: direct responsibility for enforcing the law and bringing gang members to justice. Why pick on the mayor?

Blum finds herself in McCaw's crosshairs for two reasons: (1) history and (2) she's an easy target.

The history is well known. McCaw has disliked Blum for a long time now.

As for vulnerability, McCaw and her editorial page editor Travis Armstrong have been able to exploit Blum's inability to communicate effectively on the gang violence problem.

This is one area where being a "small town mayor" works to Blum's disadvantage. She doesn't have the unctuous charm or the polished manner of San Francisco's Gavin Newsome or L.A.'s Antonio Villaraigosa, big city mayors who, for example, were both able to admit to having affairs without having to step down from office or ever take their eyes off of their next goal, the Governor's Mansion.

Asking Blum what she intends to do to stop gang violence puts her in an awkward position. Awkward because there is no easy or simple solution to the problem.

For gang members, fighting is a form of recreation. Kids are killing each other over literally nothing, other than the happenstance of which side of State Street someone lives on.

While our criminal justice system may be effective on the punishment end its weakest link is when it comes to deterrence. Compounding the problem is that these young gang members don't seem to fear apprehension and arrest, they don't appear to fear conviction and confinement. For many, incarceration only adds to their stature in the gang culture.

So given those circumstances, not even the sociologists or the criminal justice experts have an easy or quick solution. Why should anyone expect Blum to?

Yet she's vilified for not having an answer. Derided for faltering when asked to come up with a solution for that which is, in all liklihood, unsolvable.

So with the Mayor being the poster girl for the community's inability to deal with youth violence, McCaw won't rest until she is assured there is at least one more casualty of Santa Barbara's gang wars: Marty Blum.