Invisible Scourge

While society frets over the threat of school massacres, a more insidious and lethal rampage mounts on the streets, unacknowledged

The next day, Stephanie Jack was arrested and charged with kidnaping for her role in confining the officers to the Pueblo complex.

She is Larry Jack's sister.

Nothing changes in the neighborhood.

Images from an anti-violence PSA created by the National Crime Prevention Council and the Ad Council.
Images from an anti-violence PSA created by the National Crime Prevention Council and the Ad Council.

State Senator Chris Cummiskey is widely viewed as a rising star in Arizona's rudderless Democratic party. He prides himself on responding to his constituents.

And judging from two recent initiatives he's sponsored, Cummiskey and his constituents are media-driven. If it's on the front page, it's on Cummiskey's legislative agenda.

In the wake of the Columbine massacre, Cummiskey and Republican Senator Tom Freestone established the SAFE (Safety Answers for Education) Commission, which hosted well-publicized hearings around the state. Views expressed at those hearings will lead to proposals in the upcoming legislative session.

"The worst thing that we could do in light of the tragic events in Littleton is pretend that these horrific acts can't happen in Arizona," Cummiskey wrote in a September op-ed piece in the Arizona Republic.

Cummiskey also is the driving force behind "Shannon's Law," inspired by the death of a north Phoenix girl who was struck by random fire. Cummiskey says he spends two to three hours a day working on "Shannon's Law."

Yet New Times found no record of anyone being killed in an Arizona public-school classroom. And the numbers of people killed or hurt by random gunfire is minuscule compared to the number felled by gang crime.

Cummiskey replies to these points by explaining that he must respond to the concerns of constituents.

"Most legislators don't come in contact with the violence that's occurring when it comes to gangs," Cummiskey tells New Times.

In his north central Phoenix District 25, Cummiskey says, "the things that I'm responsive to in terms of the constituency are usually not gang-related. I haven't received a call in probably three years that says we have to do something about gangs."

He says the Legislature has not been farsighted when it comes to gang prevention and intervention programs, and suggests that it's up to Arizonans and lawmakers from heavily affected districts to make an issue of gang violence.

"In order to make this issue a legislative priority, you need broad-based community hearings, spearheaded by legislators from those districts," Cummiskey says -- apparently oblivious to the fact that his district is one of "those districts."

Three zip codes inside Cummiskey's district are ranked in the county's top 10 for youth violence.

Although Governor Jane Hull has failed to appoint members to the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission for months, she took time to unveil her very own "Arizona's Compact to Improve Our Neighborhoods" on December 6. The governor proposes to assemble $6 million from state agencies, then turn around and pass out grants to combat neighborhood blight throughout Arizona. That includes fighting gangs. Or getting a job. Or sobering up. Or combating any other number of social maladies. Only a fraction of the $6 million will actually address gangs.

While the governor could only amass $6 million to combat statewide social problems that included gangs, the Arizona Humane Society managed to raise $6 million for the care of dogs and cats in Maricopa County in 1999.

If Arizona is going to address growing gang membership as well as the increase in gang homicides, the state will need a more informed understanding of the problem and a better sense of priorities.

Norma Gomez, Lauren Cooper, Jordan Sterling and Sheila DeBenedetto assisted with research for this story.

See previous stories in the Hard Core series here.

Contact Terry Greene Sterling at 602-229-8437 or at her online address:
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