Retired Gangsters Gang Up On Youth: Gang Prevention: A Paramount Need

Jim Myers
November 1, 2000

Some municipalities in Los Angeles County focus less on gang intervention and more on early prevention. The GRIP program in the City of Paramount, east of Compton, is often cited as a note-worthy example.

Gang Resistance is Paramount was created in 1982 by Tony Ostos, and it has been part of the curriculum in the Paramount Unified School District ever since. "Our gang problem is a little bit less than surrounding cities," said Vincent Torres, the city's recreation director. "But it's still a problem.&qout;

Gang workers elsewhere in the L.A. area suggest that GRIP may be successful because Paramount doesn't have much of a problem. But a different view appears from watching the predominantly Hispanic and black youngsters that the program targets: Maybe GRIP comes along in the nick of time.

By the fourth or fifth grade, many of these youngsters are disturbingly familiar with the lore of gangs. A few have already witnessed drive-by shootings or their aftermaths. Into this steps GRIP, which describes itself as an attempt "to eliminate the source of future gang members" through a program of gang-resistance training for second and fifth graders one day a week for 15 weeks, plus an 11-week follow-up program for ninth graders.

Recently, the black and Hispanic youngsters in a fourth and fifth grade class at Paramount Park School (the fourth graders' presence was an anomaly) were attentive to Ostos during lesson number eight in the series: Gang Tattoos. The session included a graphic video on tattoo removal, which had the kids squirming, groaning and hiding their faces.

Nevertheless, these children knew about gangs in ways that suggest gangs are not a far-off phenomenon. When Ostos mentioned a recent fatal gang shooting at one of the city's major intersections, one boy quickly raised his hand. "I saw it," he said.

"That was a kid who came through the GRIP program," Ostos told the class. The room got very silent. "But he didn't listen... He didn't take the message seriously, and he got killed."

A girl in the class reported, "My friend's mother got killed when she was pregnant."

"Was she involved in gangs?" Ostos asked.

"Her husband was," the girl said.

"We always come back to the negative consequences of getting involved with gangs," Ostos noted afterwards. GRIP's 15 lessons each have a them like, "Peer Pressure to Be Bad." In a review of this lesson, the kids in the class demonstrated that they are familiar with resistance strategies to avoid getting involved in activities they know are wrong, including walking away, saying "no" over and over, suggesting an alternative or giving an excuse.

Ostos said the grade school children sometimes function like an early warning system about gangs. "The kids tell us about problems we didn't know about." Ostos keeps in contact with police.

But does GRIP prevent kids from joining gangs? Five studies of GRIP have found positive signs. In one, 50 percent of the children were undecided about gangs prior to the program, and 90 percent were negative about gangs after the program. Another study found 90 percent were still negative about gangs two years after the fifth grade sessions. Another found that 96 percent of 3,612 former GRIP participants were not gang involved.

Even if 144 former participants got involved with gangs, the Paramount City Council is sufficiently convinced the program works: GRIP has a $195,000 budget for Ostos and five workers, plus materials and other expenses. "We don't encounter problems at budget time," said Recreation Director Torres.

Myers, Jim. "Retired Gangsters Gang Up On Youth: Gang Prevention: A Paramount Need." Youth Today, November 2000, p. 42.

©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.