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Leap on Indictments of MS-13 Street Gang

Social Welfare Adjunct Professor Jorja Leap spoke with BBC World Service’s Spanish-language news outlet about the Fulton clique of the MS-13 street gang. A federal indictment of 22 of the gang’s members detailed brutal acts across Los Angeles, according to BBC Mundo. Federal officials said 19 of those indicted are undocumented immigrants from Central America who arrived in the past three or four years. The Fulton clique actively recruits young people, who often behave impulsively and unpredictably, Leap said. Youths who have experienced poverty, poor education, trauma and mental illness are particularly susceptible to gang overtures, she said. The indictments came as MS-13’s influence in the region has waned. Leap said 1,200 homicides were recorded during MS-13’s boom, but last year the number had dropped to 300.


 

Leap on LAPD Probe of Nipsey Hussle

The New York Times spoke with Adjunct Professor of Social Welfare Jorja Leap about the Los Angeles Police Department’s criminal probe of rapper Nipsey Hussle. After Hussle was slain in March, city leaders praised him as an artist, peacemaker and hero of South Los Angeles. They did not mention that the city had opened an investigation into Hussle’s business enterprises to determine whether they were hubs of gang activity. Now, investigators are under pressure to back away from the probe, even as they see Hussle’s killing as a sign of the gang violence they were looking into. “I think this goes to the complexity of the problem of gangs, gang membership and gang congregating,” Leap said. “Someone can be a hero, someone may also have a past. Neighborhoods can want zealously to have public safety and public gathering places. But for better or worse, that may or may not include gang members.”


 

Film Spotlights Students Pushed From School System

As a young man growing up in a disadvantaged community, Victor Rios was a repeated school dropout, and was involved in drugs, crime and gang activity. Today, he holds a master’s degree and Ph.D. from UC Berkeley and is a tenured professor of sociology at UC Santa Barbara. Rios’ inspirational story is shown in the documentary “The Pushouts,” which was presented at the Fowler Museum’s Lenart Auditorium on Jan. 24. Following the screening, which was co-sponsored by UCLA Luskin, Associate Professor of Public Policy Chris Zepeda-Millan moderated a Q&A with many of the people featured in the film. They included a group of students in the Yo! Watts high school program, which gives disadvantaged youth the tools, including mentors like Rios, that they need to find success. Victims of what is known as the school-to-prison pipeline, these students are labeled “dropouts.” The documentary argues that they should instead be called “pushouts,” since they are often pushed from an educational system that is often geared against them. “The Pushouts” is trying to begin a dialogue about why this is happening and what can be done about it. As Rios said during the Q&A, “There’s a conversation that’s being had around the nation, but this film is just one of the conversation starters.”  — Jackson Belway

Filmmakers and supporters gather at a reception before the “Pushouts” screening.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 

Leap Refutes Trump’s Claim that ICE Liberated Towns from MS-13

The tweets of Donald Trump are not known for factual accuracy, and Jorja Leap of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare told PolitiFact that his recent claims about ICE “liberating” towns from MS-13 and other gangs are an “outrageous” example of his tendency to exaggerate. “This is hyperbolic and misleading language,” said Leap, who is also director of the Health and Social Justice Partnership at UCLA Luskin. “Liberation is usually the terminology of military forces — as in, the Allies liberated France from the Nazis.”


 

S.F. Chronicle: Trump Is Exaggerating Threat of MS-13, Leap Says

In its coverage of the Trump administration’s claims that its policies prevent members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13 from entering the United States to commit crimes, the Chronicle turned to Jorja Leap of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare, who has studied MS-13 and other gangs. In reality, MS-13’s threat in Los Angeles, where the gang was born three decades ago, “is probably the lowest it has ever been,” Leap said. Constantly citing the danger of MS-13, as Trump has done, could backfire, helping MS-13 in recruiting. Leap said, “Along with being erroneous, he is giving them oxygen. Donald Trump is acting as a one-man publicity band for MS-13.” Leap also contributed to a recent visual storytelling piece about MS-13 by the New York Times. And she previously spoke to the L.A. Daily News about the search of a new Los Angeles police chief.


 

Intervening in Violence: “People Join Gangs Because of a Lethal Absence of Hope” Associate professor Jorja Leap discusses factors that lead to young people joining gangs on radio show

Jorja Leap, adjunct associate professor of social welfare, appeared as a guest on the Howard Gluss radio show to discuss the factors that lead to young people joining gangs.

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Jorja Leap is an expert in crisis intervention and trauma response. Her research examines gangs, prison culture and high-risk and system-involved youth

“So many of the young men and young women I have worked with over the years come from families where there has been abuse,” says Leap. “They come from families where other family members have been gang members themselves. They come from families where there has been substance abuse and multiple problems and they also come from communities that are impoverished, but also more importantly communities that are affected by violence.”

The following is an excerpt from the interview:

GLUSS: We need the facts and then we need an emotional connection to the facts. So give us some of the facts.

LEAP: Well, the facts are, and I’m going to quote Father Greg Boyle here, gangs do not arise and people do not join gangs because of violence, people join gangs because of a lethal absence of hope.

GLUSS: Which is depression.

LEAP: It’s depression, you’re absolutely right. It’s a sense of powerlessness. It’s feeling there are no opportunities, no options, no one who cares. And that’s what it comes from. It comes from depression, and it also comes from, this will come as no surprise to you and I’m sure to other listeners, it also comes from families and communities.

So many of the young men and young women I have worked with over the years come from families where there has been abuse. They come from families where other family members have been gang members themselves. They come from families where there has been substance abuse and multiple problems and they also come from communities that are impoverished, but also more importantly communities that are affected by violence.

And you’ve mentioned that I’ve worked all over the world and one of the commonalities is that when young people and children are raised in violent communities they often have post traumatic stress disorder even as they are growing up and they will join gangs and engage in violent behavior strangely enough in order to feel empowered.

GLUSS: There’s a sense of respect and self esteem with that.

LEAP: Exactly…now you know, for example, I witnessed one very powerful transformation. There are young men and young women who are now being trained, former gang members that are being trained in solar panel installation, a job that with which they can earn a tremendous amount of money. The transformation in them and the sense of control they begin to feel is just astonishing in terms of themselves and their identity.

Listen to the entire interview here.

Dr. Jorja Leap is a professor at UCLA, a recognized expert in crisis intervention and trauma response and has been involved with training and research for the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe as part of post-war development and conflict resolution in Bosnia and Kosovo and has conducted work with the families of victims of the 9/11 WTC disaster. She is the author of the book, “No One Knows Their Names.”