Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
July 23, 2017 Disclaimer: Please read.

Statements and opinions expressed in articles are those of the authors, not Truthdig. Truthdig takes no responsibility for such statements or opinions.

The Unwomanly Face of War
The Life of Caliph Washington

Truthdig Bazaar

Dark Hope

By David Shulman

more items

Email this item Print this item

Below the Safety Net

Posted on Nov 28, 2011
AP / David Goldman

Some of the nation’s most courageous people are those who work day and night in overcrowded urban emergency wards and trauma centers. Among the patients they serve are often-dangerous gang members brought there from their impoverished and violent neighborhoods, wounded, sometimes near death. 

Square, Story page, 2nd paragraph, mobile
These health care workers bear the brunt of many terrible aspects of our political, criminal-justice and economic systems. A poorly funded and overtaxed health care system overcrowds the hospitals. A police, prosecutorial and court system oriented toward imprisonment builds up gangs, rather than reducing them. Schools often fail to give students the education they need to leave the dead-end gang life. High unemployment, with employers unwilling to hire ex-cons, is a constant. The frustrations from all this add to the tensions of big-city emergency rooms, trauma centers and intensive care wards. Welcome to this little-noted but reflective side of American society.

“I have seen so many homies die in ICU,” said Mike Garcia, a former gang member who works at White Memorial Medical Center, a nonprofit hospital in Los Angeles’ Boyle Heights section, to prevent violence by gang members. There are 65 gangs in the area. “Some of [the members] are 15 years old. They haven’t even graduated. They are in and out [of consciousness in the emergency care unit], tubes in their mouths. I have sat with mothers for hours, not even saying anything. Sometimes that’s their only son, their only kid. If that kid dies, they don’t have anyone in the house. They invite me to the wake, just because I sat there.”

I met Garcia while reporting on the Advancement Project, which is trying to reduce violence in gang-ridden neighborhoods. “I grew up in Boyle Heights and belonged to a gang there,” he told me. He quit when he was 40. “My sons started going to prison,” he said. “I realized that I was a bad example, so I decided to change my life and do something with the remaining years I have, something positive.”

He became part of the White Memorial staff, assigned the difficult job of defusing situations familiar to emergency room workers in gang-heavy neighborhoods across the country. When a wounded gang member arrives at a hospital, family members and fellow gangsters, all highly emotional and sometimes armed, often accompany him. At times, the victim’s enemy comes to the hospital to finish the job.


Square, Site wide, Desktop


Square, Site wide, Mobile
On a recent day, Garcia was teaching a class at the Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy. There, ex-gang members, including some who have done long stretches in state prison, are trained to intervene between violent and feuding gangs in the Los Angeles area’s poor neighborhoods. About 20 men and women listened to Garcia explain what he does.

He recalled when he was wounded, treated with disrespect by doctors, nurses and other personnel because he was a gang member. “I remember how I was mistreated when I went into the hospital,” he said. “My goal is to show the doctors and nurses that gang members are human, and there is someone there who cares about them.” He also shows the medical personnel ways of defusing explosive situations.

He is on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He keeps an eye on the hospital parking lot and waiting room for gang members ready to continue a battle inside. He watches for family and friends ready to take out their anger on nurses and doctors. He roams the streets, fishing for information on gang and neighborhood tensions. He looks for signs that hospital visitors are packing guns or knives.

“And if [the gang members] need some kind of help getting back into school, getting a job, talking to their parents, I’m there for them,” Garcia said. “And if they are not ready to change, I tell them I’ll be here when you are.”

I asked if he was successful in getting gang members to turn their lives around. “Not as much as I would like,” he said. “They have to go back to that same neighborhood.”

Even when they are successful, programs such as this can do only so much.

More is required than a deadlocked government and indifferent business communities will provide. First of all, we need more money for schools. In California, the schools serving kindergarten through 12th grade are so short of funds that some of them are threatening to reduce the school year. At the state universities, tuition is rising sharply, touching off student demonstrations. The curse of the 1978 tax-limiting Proposition 13 continues.

Aside from more money for education, we need a reversal of arrest and sentencing policies, reducing the number of drug—especially marijuana—arrests. These arrests load up the prisons. And finally, we need Congress, President Barack Obama and business leaders to create jobs that can be filled by those who have the least job skills.

That’s asking for the unlikely or impossible. While we’re waiting, we’ll have to be satisfied with the brave efforts of health workers and people like Mike Garcia in the trenches who deal with society’s failures without much help.

New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

Join the conversation

Load Comments

By Ted Whitney, December 4, 2011 at 2:41 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I work in critical care at a large, non-profit hospital.  A lot of us in health care are
seeing declining numbers of people coming in for care or increasing numbers of
people coming in for care when their disease has already progressed to the point
where its much to late to do anything for them (except to attempt to make them
“comfortable”).  My co-workers and I believe that we are seeing the beginning of
the end for the healthcare system in this country.  By that, I mean we will soon see
hospitals and medical clinics shutting down because they cannot afford to stay
open.  What this means is that EVERYONE will suffer, including the rich (because
they will have to pay for ALL that expensive equipment - equipment that was
previously paid for by middle class healthcare insurance plans).  Only the ultra rich
will be able to afford healthcare and, for most of them, it will mean traveling to
Europe or Asia to get adequate care.  For the rest of us, there will be nothing.  That
is the future of healthcare in the US.  Soon.

Report this
David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, November 30, 2011 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

Re: “All two and a half million were greedy and ill advised?”

The numbers of people — whether only a few or millions involved — is not a determinate of guilt or innocence, in mortgage fraud or anything else.

In 2008, near 60 million Americans voted for the corporate party’s Republican candidate, McCain, to continue the resource wars and not allow Americans to have a human right to basic healthcare… and near 70 million Americans voted for the corporate party’s Democrat candidate, to also continue the resource wars (if only relabeled “necessary” and “humanitarian”) and to also not allow Americans to have a human right to basic healthcare because there were too many corrupt “legacy systems” that Democrats needed to preserve and protect.

Were all those near 130 million retrograde Republican and depraved Democrat voters innocent of the war crimes and crimes against humanity that they corporate state compliantly free-will voted together to provide a 99% popular vote mandate for?

“The sad truth is that most evil is done by people who never make up their minds to be good or evil.”
— Hannah Arendt

Report this

By ardee, November 30, 2011 at 1:22 pm Link to this comment

bpawk, November 30 at 9:06 am

The fact that there will be an estimated total of two and one half million foreclosures before the end of the coming year makes your attempts to blame the few who bit off more than they could chew rather silly. Many report being told that their mortgages were substantially different than the actuality proved. Your rant simply excuses the criminalsa dn blames the innocent.

All two and a half million were greedy and ill advised? Nope, its you.

Report this
David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, November 30, 2011 at 1:07 pm Link to this comment

Re: “It’s moral hazards all around.”

Is it a moral hazard to ignore the criminality of criminals? Yes, and some hazards involve greater immorality than others.

In his 2003 published victory dancing self-congratulatory semi-autobiography, In An Uncertain World, Robert Rubin repeatedly expressed considerable concern for the “moral hazards” that might result from any non-predatory policies… blaming the victims of the early consequences of criminal international banking and investment activities.

Rubin — the CEO of Goldman Sachs who revolving door entered Clinton’s regime to be the Democrats “Best & Brightest” Treasury Secretary needed to manage the removal of the wall between banking an speculation, who then revolving door returned to the private sector for his ample reward at Ctitgroup — is arguably the immoral individual most responsible for the truly historic crimes that have caused global economic collapse… crimes that the corporate party’s Republicans and Democrats have unitedly considered to be so well perpetrated as to be worthy of big bailout profiting rewards, rather than prosecution.

Yes, the corporate (R) & (D) party voters who provide criminals complete impunity do create moral hazards.

Jill Stein for President:

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

Report this

By bpawk, November 30, 2011 at 10:06 am Link to this comment

This type of column is the reason OWS and others will never get the support of responsible prudent people:  criminals and parents of criminals blame everyone else for their plight except themselves.  Just remember, a lot of people signed mortgages they could never afford, then they scream they can’t pay it - nobody deserves bailouts whether Wall Street or Main Street. People need to take responsibility for their actions - if you take risk, you alone should bear the brunt of it whether rich or poor. Anything else punishes the good prudent people who lived within their means and didn’t spend lavishly with money they didn’t have - why should good people bail out the bad ones - why be good - it’s moral hazard all round.

Report this
David J. Cyr's avatar

By David J. Cyr, November 30, 2011 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

QUOTE, Bill Boyarsky:

“These health care workers bear the brunt of many terrible aspects of our political, criminal-justice and economic systems.”

For those who think the money spent on “healthcare” in America is spent on healthcare:

Dr. Stephen Bezruchka on Democracy Now!:

Dr. Stephen Bezruchka on Alternative Radio:

And, for those who do not understand that the urban gang problem is the natural product of the corporate state produced permanent underclass, a history of the seriously well organized gangs:

Republicans happily get the shit they want from their voting, and we all get that shit because the corporate party’s (D) dedicated liberals keep voting to keep getting all the corporate shit they say they don’t want.

Jill Stein for President:

Voter Consent Wastes Dissent:

Report this

By balkas, November 29, 2011 at 3:54 pm Link to this comment

obesity is caused by many factors, but never by
‘laziness’, willfullnes to be so, or ‘carelessness’. the
main cause of obesity is the food people eat.
and the food they eat is loaded with salt, sugar,
wrong fats, preservatives; waging ignorance by
advertisers, u.s system of rule and its carelessness
or greed for excessive profits.

stress, fears, loneliness, sedentary life style;
pressure to buy, buy, and buy clothes, cars, shoes
at the expense of nutritious foods, are also causes
for obesity.

gang life is also caused; poverty, fear/shame of it,
hopelessness, lack of work, divorces, ethnicity,
police carelessness for poor neighborhoods, lack
of trust in ‘their’ police, bad food, drugs are some
of the causes of gang life.

in a system of governances where police is
people’s police; most, say, 98% of people have
jobs, natural resources belong in about equal
measure to all people, gangs are nonexistent. tnx

Report this

By ardee, November 29, 2011 at 2:58 pm Link to this comment

Gangs, like obese people, make life choices - nobody forced them into a gang rather than stay in school and get good grades;

Oh bpawk, November 29 at 5:19 am you could not express better your ignorance of ghetto life.

Report this

By MeHere, November 29, 2011 at 1:00 pm Link to this comment

This excellent article serves to illustrate a point that so many voters fail to
understand. Adequate investment in helping people with health and social issues
results in more well-being for the whole of society. It’s easy to see how much
better this approach works in a number of countries. Trickle-down economics,
tougher laws, and more jails have not worked and will not work beyond making
profits for a few.  However, the concept of rebuilding society cannot work unless it is a comprehensive national endeavor. Throwing money into projects here and
there is not productive and creates imbalances among the states.

Report this
Blueokie's avatar

By Blueokie, November 29, 2011 at 11:58 am Link to this comment

Where would hawks cut off (economically) be to decide who should have sex, or would we just go with forced sterilization for the poor.  That would last about a generation, then where would we find someone to harvest the agriculture, clean the toilets, raise your kids.  Easier to just call them all sub-human, everything in Amerika is equal, all the schools, job prospects, nutrition, health care, etc.  Except, of course that its not.  Today you’re far more likely to fall to the quintile below than advance to the one above.

Would that someone would devise a time machine so that all the comfortable middle class conservatives,self-satisfied with their jingoistic phrases like “personal responsibility”, could be transfered back to the halcyon days of rugged individualism, arriving in say Savannah in 1825, as Africans.  I’m sure that by now their progeny would rule the world

Report this

By bpawk, November 29, 2011 at 6:19 am Link to this comment


Gangs, like obese people, make life choices - nobody forced them into a gang rather than stay in school and get good grades; ditto the obese people - nobody put the food in their mouth and forced them to eat themselves into oblivion - even if you were raised in poverty (which I was) you can get out - you might not end up a millionaire, but you can improve your life if you take steps to make it happen. Kids, like everything else, cost money and if you can’t afford hem or don’t get involved in their lives, you shouldn’t have them. It’s misery for both you and the kid.

Report this

By ardee, November 29, 2011 at 3:31 am Link to this comment

Lafayette would have us outlaw “gangs”. Would he then be the arbiter of which group is actually a gang and which is simply an advocate for unpopular actions?

I would suggest that we have laws on the books concerning “gang” activity and criminality, the RICO statutes being one such. I would further note that every wave of immigration brought with it ethnically based gangs. These mostly disappeared as the population assimilated the new immigrants. Of course there seems to always be a certain number of criminal based activity within every society, a problem more related to economic inequality I suggest than association.

I trust Lafayette might consider the problems with “outlawing” groups and the associated abuses that would inevitably follow.

Report this
Lafayette's avatar

By Lafayette, November 29, 2011 at 2:50 am Link to this comment


On a recent day, Garcia was teaching a class at the Advancement Project’s Urban Peace Academy. There, ex-gang members, including some who have done long stretches in state prison, are trained to intervene between violent and feuding gangs in the Los Angeles area’s poor neighborhoods. About 20 men and women listened to Garcia explain what he does.

No doubt this is a courageous undertaking on the part of Mr. Garcia. It is surely necessary, but it will not be enough.

Gang-membership is not singular to the US. It happens all over the world. And in some places the very membership in a gang is outlawed. In fact, it is just such a law that is employed to suppress the Mafia in Italy and in some states in the US.

There are gangs and there are gangs. Garcia seems to be Latin American who grew up (most probably) in an ethnic enclave. Such groupings of ethnicity happen all over America, because they attract immigrants to a language and a culture that they understand and with which they are familiar. It is a natural process.

It is in this manner that ethnicities, rather than feel ostracized, will want to assimilate within a “foreign culture”, which is quite different from the one from which they came.

Meaning this sociologically: Ours is an Individualist Culture where we think that that freedom-of-choice and unlimited-opportunity (supposedly) allows the individual to both cope personally and advance up the economic escalator. The first large wave of immigration from Europe was assimilated in this process in the 19th and 20th centuries. 

Most of our immigrants come from a Collective Culture that impels them to look for support within their ethnic community. The disconnect happens when “we” expect “them” to assimilate and “they” are lost in the assimilation myriad. So immigrants assimilate into social organizations with which they are linguistically familiar.


Frankly, it would seem a better idea to make use of that process. That is, rather than gangs (which should be outlawed) the community should actively support Ethnic Clubs that help immigrants learn English, promote festivals that they can all mutually share, help them find jobs (a measure that will surely take the edge off gang-membership), promote intra-club sports events, that means are employed to further the interests of the ethnicity.

If nurturing the ethnic groupings (clubs) is the carrot, than the stick must be outlawing gangs, such that the ethnic communities understand that there is a choice to be made. Where there is no choice, nothing can be done about the gangs.

Inevitably, with succeeding generations, people loosen their original ethnic ties and fully assimilate into the American culture. (Where, unfortunately, they learn that life is all about me, me, me.)

There are great advantages to collectivism, which American society has refused to acknowledge since its earliest roots in the 17th century. For instance, learning that sociological evolution need not be Darwinian.

Report this
screamingpalm's avatar

By screamingpalm, November 28, 2011 at 8:30 pm Link to this comment

Yikes! bpawk, please exclude me from your selective society dystopia. I suppose the next logical step is to only allow the rich to reproduce.

People do desperate things to survive. Calling gangs a scourge to society is similar to condemning people with obesity in an unfettered capitalist society that exploits consumers with powerful advertising and without an invested interest in the health of its citizens (universal health care) and no priority towards preventative medicene.

Oh well, it’s condescension as usual here on TD.

Report this

By bpawk, November 28, 2011 at 2:18 pm Link to this comment

While I sympathesize with the health care workers, I don’t feel sorry for the homies - they are a scourge to society with their violent gang behaviour frightening people in their neighbourhoods. Your article blames everyone for their criminal behaviour but themselves and their parents - this is a reason why anyone who wants to be a parent must have a licence - if we need a licence to drive a car, a licence to practice law, even a fishing license - why, with what many parents brag is the most imporant job in the world - being a parent - is there no license for parenting? If people knew how to budget and learn the importance and responsibility of looking after their children, it would go a long way towards a more civil informed society and I’m sure a lot of people would think twice about having kids.

Report this

By lasmog, November 28, 2011 at 1:04 pm Link to this comment

Spend time in any ER and you get to see America’s underbelly.  Homeless, nearly-homeless, poor immigrants, working poor, the sick and old barely able to care for themselves, they are all there in the waiting room looking scared and defeated.  Whenever I’m in one of these waiting room I think of the wealthy who complain about their ‘high’ taxes and I think about all the money we waste on the military and on Wall Street.

Report this

By gerard, November 28, 2011 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

“While we’re waiting, we’ll have to be satisfied with the brave efforts of health workers and people like Mike Garcia in the trenches ...”

Bill Boyarsky:  What’s missing?  Your article just goes “pffft!” How about doing some catch-up?

Nobody who isn’t brain-dead is waiting any longer.
We have a movement of smart, energetic young people -
tens of thousands of them—Occupying America, wanting to find ways to work tirelessly and caringly to help “health workers and people like Mike Garcia in the trenches.” 

Nothing is preventing you, me and every member of the 99% of “ordinary/extraordinary people” from joining in and supporting them. It’s a peaceful revolution of the 99% that merits your undivided awareness and support, sir.

Report this
prisnersdilema's avatar

By prisnersdilema, November 28, 2011 at 9:12 am Link to this comment

The gang keeps you alive…and it also kills you…

just like your job,. Keeps you alive, and also kills you….

How many billions have we spent killing people in Afghabistan, Iraq, Pakistan, and soon
Iran, while the war here on our streets has casualties too, much like the young ones we
used in the Armies of Central and South America…

corporate America is a cult of death, it profits from death, and it doesn’t look back or
question, all it does it add up it’s gold… But one day soon all will be living in it’s
ashes…then who will be rich…?

Report this
sofianitz's avatar

By sofianitz, November 28, 2011 at 8:26 am Link to this comment

The comments about the grossly inadequate medical care and education disadvantages for poor California children are, correct, topical, and well intentioned.

The question remains:  Are the people weary enough of the present Government to do anything about it?

“This Country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it.  Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing Government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember, and overthrow it.”
Abraham Lincoln, 1861

Report this

By balkas, November 28, 2011 at 7:44 am Link to this comment

it would help a lot if THEIR police would become OUR police; i.e., police for all and
not just for some people.
since u.s system of living is founded on inequality on personal and ethnic level the
‘lower’ races and voelker would forever be left out and behind.
these inequalities appear also lawful and constitutional.

whether in school, army, work, media some people will be left out or behind.

however, even gang life is founded on same ideology as u.s system of life. so, one
cannot help improve street life by putting patches on it. it would be better to teach
poor people to discard entirely u.s system and go for a caring-sharing system. tnx

Report this
EmileZ's avatar

By EmileZ, November 28, 2011 at 7:16 am Link to this comment

Always nice to read a reality based column (as opposed to a column propping up a political fantasy and the relevance of one’s own position related to the fantasy).

I wish it could have been fleshed out a bit more, but still, some excellent points were touched upon.

Report this

By joegod, November 28, 2011 at 6:05 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I could appreciate guys like this who turn themselves around and become
productive members of society, but don’t expect gang-bangers to get much
respect when they show up at hospitals all bloody and dying due to yet
another petty dispute- these guys forsake all of society’s rules and
regulations, do whatever the hell they want and terrorize entire
neighborhoods doing it. Then they show up at the hospital demanding that
they be treated,w/their friends/associates cursing and yelling and
generally freaking out at the doctors and nurses, whom if they ran into on
the street would probably stick-up. Why should they get any respect, when
they don’t respect anybody else? Decent people across this country are
sick and tired of these punks and their destructive,negative effect on our
society, not to mention the families who refuse to take responsibility for
these hooligans. Yes, there are many factors involved in how and why
these kids end up like this, but it starts at home. When they act like they
don’t have a choice, then they are little more than animals,aren’t they? You
can’t blame the system for all of your own personal choices.

Report this

By ardee, November 28, 2011 at 5:45 am Link to this comment

This is an important article if only because it illustrates the gulf that exists in this nation between the haves and the have-nots. Somehow the message must be delivered to those who believe that their current middle class status inures them from a fate that befalls so many of our poor. They will be victims, as much as the poor are today.

Report this

By James Harbour, November 28, 2011 at 5:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Poorly funded????  15% of our GDP is health care.  I think you mean disproportionately funded.

Report this
Right Top, Site wide - Care2
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right Internal Skyscraper, Site wide

Like Truthdig on Facebook