Gonzales Announces Oklahoma Anti-Gang Initiative

Tuesday, May 1st 2007, 5:54 pm

By: News On 6

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, under fire over the dismissal of federal prosecutors, arrived in the nation's heartland Tuesday to announce millions of dollars in federal grants to combat gang violence. Flanked by prosecutors, city officials and law enforcement officers at the U.S. Attorney's office in Oklahoma City, Gonzales sidestepped questions about calls from some members of Congress, including U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma, for his resignation.

``I'm staying focused on doing my job,'' Gonzales said. ``I think that's what the American people expect me to do. There's a lot of important work to be focused on, and obviously I continue to work with Congress.

``They, like the American people, expect me to do my job, and that's what I'm doing here today.''

With an estimated 4,000 gang members in 87 separate gangs, Oklahoma City prosecutors say they desperately need the $2.5 million in federal funding to combat gang violence.

``I grew up in a neighborhood that had little but hopes and dreams,'' said Gonzales, who was raised near Houston. ``All of our children should be focused on the pursuit of the American dream. But that is hard to do if you live in fear and grow up in neighborhoods plagued by gang violence.''

Oklahoma City was one of four communities that Gonzales named last week to each receive $2.5 million in grants. The others were Indianapolis, Rochester, N.Y. and Raleigh, N.C.

Gonzales said Oklahoma City was selected because of the need for anti-gang resources and the established infrastructure to support prevention efforts.

U.S. Attorney John Richter said Oklahoma City had 245 drive-by shootings in 2006 and that 23 of the city's 57 homicides last year were linked to gang activity.

``We have challenges,'' Richter said.

The money will include $1 million for preventative efforts targeted toward juvenile delinquency, $1 million to support law enforcement programs and another $500,000 for prisoner re-entry programs that will provide transitional housing, job readiness and placement assistance for prisoners that are being released.

``While enforcing the law in this area is important, keeping kids out of gangs in the first place is the goal of all goals,'' Gonzales said. ``That's why this program brings together three essential strategies in the fight against gangs: prevention, prosecution, and prisoner re-entry.''

Before Tuesday's press conference, Gonzales toured the Oak Grove apartment complex, a federal housing project in south Oklahoma City.

On Wednesday, Gonzales is expected to join state and local leaders at the Oklahoma History Center to discuss law enforcement and mental health issues raised by the recent shooting rampage at Virginia Tech that left 33 people dead.

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