By Ray Richardson
LOS ANGELES —The increasing number of smash-and-grab robberies at retail outlets in the area has prompted community organizations and businesses to offer employment, job skills training and other resources to individuals involved in the highly publicized crimes.
Organizers of the plan hope opportunities to establish financial stability will convince people, many of them young adults and teen-agers, to stop participating in criminal activity that is generating safety concerns and could have a damaging effect on the retail economy.
“We don’t want any of our young people or property owners or employees to be injured or killed,” said Jonathan Moseley, western regional director of the National Action Network, one of the organizations offering solutions to the brazen robberies. “If this keeps happening, somebody is bound to get hurt or worse, whether it’s the victims or perpetrators.”
The National Action Network is teaming with several local organizations and activists who are jumping into the trenches to take a more proactive approach in trying to solve an alarming problem.
Among the organizations joining NAN at a press conference outside the Baldwin Hills Crenshaw Plaza Sept. 1 were Community Build, 2nd Call, Karing Advocates United for Social Equality (KAUSE) and Volunteers of America.
Greg Dulan, owner of Dulan’s Soul Food Restaurants, appeared with the group to announce that he has 30 jobs to fill for a new location he is opening on Crenshaw Boulevard.
“If you come work for me, you will learn how to work in a restaurant,” Dulan said. “You will learn about catering. We will teach you the restaurant business.”
Dulan’s message reflected the group’s attempts to offer alternatives and a more productive way of life for those engaging in the smash-and-grab attacks.
Large groups, some totaling as many as 20-25 people, have been targeting shopping malls and upscale stores, breaking into the venues during business hours to take as much merchandise as possible before police or security arrive.
Skipp Townsend, executive director of 2nd Call, a jobs skills training organization, expressed frustration that many of the perpetrators are youths from the African-American community.
“These are our children,” Townsend said. “They come out of our homes. We have to be strong on crime in our communities. I’ve seen people turn their lives around. At 2nd Call, we have the inroads to get a person working.”
The attacks are not exclusive to the Los Angeles area. Data provided by the California Department of Justice revealed that there have been at least 188,000 statewide incidents of retail robberies, shoplifting and non-residential burglaries since the pandemic.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom announced in August a plan to allocate $85 million per year over the next three years to assist law enforcement agencies in the fight against retail crime. Mayor Karen Bass created a task force in August specifically designed to help the Los Angeles Police Department stop smash and grabs.
Strategies to counter the smash and grab attacks with jobs and jobs skill training was applauded by the Mayor’s Office.
“The mayor is taking an unprecedented approach to support community-based efforts that are proven to reduce crime and recidivism in communities most impacted by mass incarceration,” Karren Lane, L.A.’s deputy mayor of community safety, said in a statement. “That includes investments in programs that connect Angelenos to jobs, housing, legal services and mental health and substance abuse treatment to prevent crime from happening in the first place.”
Fear of extensive jail or prison terms for individuals involved in smash-and-grab attacks is fueling attempts by organizations to offer employment and job skills training.
Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer delivered a strong message to people participating in retail robberies during an interview last week with KABC-TV, Channel 7.
“I will throw the book at you, and I will charge you with everything I can charge you with,” Spitzer said.
The National Action Network has hired a consultant to build a website that will be used to promote jobs, job skills training opportunities and other resources. Community activist Najee Ali said the website should be in operation “by the end of the week.”
Because of the influence of social media on today’s younger generation, the coalition is banking heavily on digital platforms to get the word out to individuals, even those not involved with smash-and-grab groups, about job opportunities. The coalition intends to use Facebook, Instagram, Tik-Tok and other sites.
“We’re going to do all we can to reach our young people, but we need to get the parents involved too,” Moseley said. “It has to be a concerted effort. Until the parents and community demand that these actions stop, it will continue. And unfortunately, it’s going to cost someone their life.”
Ray Richardson is a contributing writer for The Wave. He can be reached at email@example.com.