Leaders, families of victims react to gang controversy

September 3, 2010 4:36:48 AM PDT
Community activists and parents who have lost children to gang violence reacted to the unusual news conference held Thursday by men who claim to be current or former gang leaders. The group is going public to complain about a threatened police crackdown.

Annette Holt says her son's murder never gets any easier to accept. Since Blair Holt was shot by a gang member on a bus on his way home from school, she has become an activist, hoping to prevent other parents from enduring similar pain.

"Every day my life is changed by someone who took his life and doesn't even feel remorse and I'm sure they represent a gang as well," said Holt.

She says she supports Superintendent Jody Weis meeting with gang leaders if it helps prevent just one murder.

Some of those purported gang leaders, however, took issue with it in an unprecedented move. They held a news conference Thursday morning. Some complained the superintendent is threatening them with charges if their members are involved in violence. One leader spoke with ABC7's Ben Bradley.

"I can't control what's going on out there. People killing for any silly thing," said the gang member, who admits to being an influential member of the Unknown Vice Lords.

The head of the anti-violence group CeaseFire agrees with both sides. Director Tio Hardiman supports the superintendent's meeting with gang leaders but he doubts it will be effective.

"You don't have traditional gang leaders any more. You have cliques, you have factions out here. There's no one person that can tell these guys to put their guns down," said Hardiman.

"It was one of the most important steps that have been made in the African American community in decades," said Maurice Perkins, Inner City Youth Foundation.

Whether or not it works, Perkins, who works with gang members and ex-offenders, sees the superintendent's meeting as an opportunity for non-violent gang leaders to prevent more bloodshed.

Annette Holt hopes leaders take advantage.

"I don't know if it'll work or won't. But it's a try. It's something different because all this other stuff stuff is just not working," said Holt.

Annette Holt's pastor is Fr. Michael Pfleger of St. Sabina Church who has been leading the charge against youth violence in the city. He says the fact that gang members are calling news conferences to complain suggests the superintendent's strategy is going to be effective.


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