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Startling surge in LA bloodshed as COVID-19 fades: 'Too many guns in too many hands'

Kevin Rector, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

Some in L.A. County cite other factors, such as policies from new Dist. Atty. George Gascón that are perceived as lenient on criminals or local pandemic-related rules to release prisoners and arrestees ahead of trial. But experts say those theories don't explain the national surge.

As infection rates have declined in recent weeks, and restrictions on gatherings and other events have slowly lifted, Moore has expressed hope that the violence will wane.

Others hope so, too.

Anne Tremblay, the legal counsel to Mayor Eric Garcetti who until February directed his Gang Reduction and Youth Development office, said intervention workers and other peace ambassadors deserve tremendous credit for continuing their work through the pandemic.

But, she said, many have "Zoom fatigue" from trying to host conversations and mediate issues online and are eager to get back to hospital bedsides and to hosting events like Summer Night Lights, a program of free family services and activities in public parks.

"They'll be looking forward to that in-person interaction, that direct connection between the youth and families and young adults they are trying to reach," Tremblay said. "Zoom is less than ideal to reach young people who are in need of support, whether they are at high risk for gang-joining or already gang-involved or -affiliated."

 

Garcetti has sought additional funding for such workers in his proposed budget for the next fiscal year, which will need approval from the City Council.

Skipp Townsend, a gang interventionist, said the city is at a critical juncture. As COVID-19 fades, community leaders must remember that young people have been traumatized by the past year and will need assistance finding balance in their lives again, he said.

They were deprived for a year of "all the stuff they needed to be mentally healthy," such as school, sports and time with peers, Townsend said, and "are socially challenged right now, trying to get back to normal."

Townsend agreed that the pandemic has played a huge role in the increased violence. Some isolated youth got angry, and some were able to buy guns — including unregistered ghost guns — for the first time with pandemic-related stimulus checks, he said. Some posted images to social media of themselves and their weapons in closed parks across town, taunting neighborhood rivals, bruising egos and instigating violence, Townsend said.

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