Denver Debates Competing Antigang Approaches


One way to stop gang violence is reach out to gang members, giving them job training and encouraging them to reform, says the Denver Post. Another tactic, which has been the trend in Denver, is to offer alternatives to young children, even preschoolers, before they ever sport gang tattoos and throw gang signs. With limited anti-gang dollars available, proponents of the two approaches are weighing in as each seeks to get a share of the funds. The oldest gang program, Open Door Youth Gang Alternatives, once was in the thick of interacting with gang members and counseling them. But that program, under the leadership of the Rev. Leon Kelly, has shifted its focus almost completely to working with younger, non-gang children. “The way of killing gangs is to cut off recruitment,” Kelly said. “It’s easier to mold and build a kid than to fix an adult.”

Other gang-intervention programs have gone by the wayside. Kelly once was heavily involved in counseling gang members, but he said he grew disenchanted because he saw too many die or go to prison. Now he offers after-school programs to young, non-gang children and counsels them relentlessly to stay away from gangs in their neighborhoods. With the resurrection of the Metro Denver Gang Coalition, a group of younger providers – some of whom are reformed gang members – are pushing for more direct involvement with actual gang members. The Gang Rescue and Support Project is one of the few groups still involved in working with gang members and helping them transition to a life free of crime. In its heyday in the 1990s, it had as many as 100 gang members show up on a typical night. These days, it counsels about 20 gang members when it meets on Thursdays.


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