As chair of the Gang and Drug Task Force of Oak Park and River Forest, I write to you with a great sense of disappointment in your paper’s decision to print and utter disgust at the content of Neil Davis’ letter on Dec. 6 titled, “What if we blamed the entire achievement gap on gangs?”

1) He doesn’t have the facts.
2) He has no idea what he’s talking about.

There’s a very good reason why no one noticed a gang sign being flashed in the photograph cited. There is none.

Consulting with the collaborative Gang and Drug Task Force staffing, which includes top-of-line police, school personnel, and youth interventionists, about the gesture the writer irresponsibly refers to as “a gang sign,” the unanimous interpretation is that it is not.

Period.

The lad defamed by this letter, his family, friends, the good people and institutions of these communities are owed an apology.

That letter is wrong: factually, intellectually, and morally.

It’s really not OK to accuse the son one of your fellow citizens of belonging to a criminal organization without some factual basis. Standard Operating Procedure is to have three or more legitimate indicators–primarily behavioral–before hanging the label of gang member on an individual. For the author to then somehow try to tie this to stadium lights bringing in gangs perhaps hints at a not-well-hidden agenda.

What is wrong with this writer? And what went wrong at Wednesday Journal, printing this irresponsible letter?
 
Mr. Davis’ ignorance of our awareness of, and vigilance regarding, gangs is not reflected in the elected leadership, administrators, volunteer committee members and staff of the 11 local government boards, including the Village of Oak Park, Village of River Forest, District 200, District 97, District 90, Oak Park Public Library, River Forest Public Library, Park District of Oak Park, Park District of River Forest, River Forest Township and Oak Park Township. In collaboration, they have supported an intergovernmental agreement since 1996 to fund the Youth Interventionist Program and the on-going daily, weekly, monthly collaborative efforts to prevent and intervene with young people at risk for, or already involved in, gangs, drugs and violence. It is a collaborative model that has earned national acclaim and recognition.

Ignorance, prejudice, and educational failure feed the growth of gangs and delinquency. The ignorance, assumptions, presumptions and accusations present in such a short letter are disturbing, sad, and prejudicial.

Gangs, the achievement gap, the good name of a young man–these are matters to be taken seriously. It is my sincere hope that the Journal take greater care with our young people in the future.

To the community at large: Please hear this from one who loves you and your children well. We need to be far less comfortable with the status quo. Let this be a wake-up call for the community on the true issue brought to light here. There are more individuals with the attitude and beliefs expressed in this letter in this community than there are gang-bangers, and their potential and actual damage to your children and community is just as real. It is patently clear that this community needs to stop resting on its laurels with regard to past successes and hard-won gains in addressing issues of racism.

Please step up.

John FS Williams, M.Ed., C.H.
Director, Youth Services
Chair, Gang and Drug Task Force of Oak Park and River Forest

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