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Crossing Continents Wednesday, 3 July, 2002, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
LA is on fire again
Jose, a gang member, has his tattoos removed
Los Angeles has more gangs than any other US city
Burhan Wazir reporting from LA's gang heartlands

Ten years after the Los Angeles riots - during which 54 people were killed and 1,100 buildings were damaged or destroyed, causing a total of $1 billion worth of damage - LA is on fire again.

The streets have become killing fields once again. Gang membership is on the rise. In the week Crossing Continents visited LA, the area of Compton had seen a clutch of murders in less than a week. And, so far this year, Los Angeles has seen an astonishing 52% rise in homicides, most of them gang related.


Luis Rivera, an ex-gang member
Luis Rivera, an ex-gang member

But there are a few rays of hope, "a few brave souls willing to take on America's domestic terrorism". In Boyle Heights, in the predominantly Hispanic East Side, a Jesuit Priest, Father Gregory Boyle, hopes to rehabilitate gang members before it's too late.

"I've put a bunch of kids into the ground," he says sadly. "But you have to keep trying."

Boyle and his gang rehabilitation project "Homeboy Industries" is one of gangland Los Angeles' few success stories.

Tough love policing

Police officers next to gang graffiti
Gang graffiti sends a message

The flip side of the coin is the Sheriff's Department's hard, tough love policing. They have one simple intent: to rid the streets of the gang menace.

Crossing Continents accompanied the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department on a daring 5am raid through Compton - the front line in the war against gangs.

The raid is little short of a pure adrenaline rush as a fleet of cars snake through the streets of Compton.

The police officers look as if they have stepped straight out of a Hollywood movie, dressed as they are in flack jackets and carrying guns and mace. And the raid itself is a success: capturing money and a magazine clip for an AK-47 gun.

Getting worse

This generation has nothing to lose...They have developed a completely nihilistic attitude

Professor Ronald Huff
The reason for the upswing in gang violence, say the experts, is socio-economic. A slump in the economy, as well as a lack of belief in rehabilitation, has given rise to gang culture again.

At the University of Irvine in Orange Country - home to the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam - Professor Ronald Huff, a leading expert on gang affairs, warns that the problem is getting worse.

"This generation has nothing to lose," he says. "They have developed a completely nihilistic attitude."

LA gang violence: Thursday 11 July 2002 on BBC Radio 4 at 11:00 BST & repeated on Monday 15 July 2002 at 20.30 BST.

Reporter: Burhan Wazir
Producer: Rosie Goldsmith
Editor: Maria Balinska

Dr Luis Moreno
"Gang members say - why not mark your face up and prove you don't give a damn"
Luis Rivera
"I made $1000 a day at 13 or 14 yrs old"
Father Gregory Boyle
"Kids join gangs because they've encountered life as a misery"
Anon - gang member
"You can't just go to any neighbourhood you want - you might get shot"
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