W ell-known Democratic political consultant James Carville has only been to York a couple of times, including Wednesday night when he was the guest speaker at the Manufacturers' Association of South Central Pennsylvania's 106th annual meeting.
So you can't expect him to know a lot about York County. Truth is, most of what he knows he was probably told by one of his staffers while on their way to York Wednesday afternoon. Sort of a pre-visit briefing.
It should come as no surprise, then, that Carville seemed shocked when one of the York businessmen participating in a panel discussion mentioned that there were 30 youth gangs in York.
"Thirty gangs in York County?" Carville asked in amazement.
"That's 30 gangs in York City," the businessman said.
Carville, who cocks his eyebrows with ease in the course of conversation, raised his eyebrows several times at the very thought of it.
Little old York City? And 30 gangs.
Who would ever have thought it?
Carville certainly did not.
Because York City is not New York City, or Chicago, or Philadelphia, or Baltimore, where gangs are a fact of life.
And to be honest with you, I could hardly believe it myself when I read in The York Dispatch recently that York City Police Chief Wes Kahley said, prior to a workshop on gang and gun violence, there were 30 gangs operating in the city.
My eyebrows don't arch nearly as nicely as Carville's, but I'm sure even my stubby brows raised a bit on my forehead when I read that.
Thirty gangs? How could that be?
I would not have been surprised if Kahley had said seven or eight gangs were operating in the city. But 30? I can't even imagine.
But what if we're talking about 30 gangs of four or five kids each? That would be bad enough, because even then that would mean 120 to 150 teens -- boys and girls -- are roaming the city looking for trouble, spray-painting graffiti all over the place, dealing drugs, defining areas of the city as their turf and defending it with guns and fists.
And that's about 120 teenagers too many to suit me.
But would it be less of a problem if it were seven or eight gangs, 20 kids in each? Of course not. Then we're talking 160 kids on the prowl. That's no improvement.
Especially when you consider that York City consists of about 5.5 square miles. Slice that up into 30 separate pieces -- or gang "territories," if you choose -- and it doesn't really leave much room for any of them to roam. About one-sixth of a square mile for each gang.
That might be about three city blocks in each direction. Give or take.
Who's to blame for this mess?
Well, it's not the school system, and it's not the police -- they're left with trying to clean up the mess created by gang membership, but they're not the cause of it.
It's not the fault of religion, either.
I'm more inclined to blame parents for not taking care of business with their children in the first five years of a child's life. If the lessons of right and wrong and civility aren't learned by then, it's probably too late.
But that's not the whole answer, either, because too often kids with good parents and a great home environment end up in trouble. Some of them are smart kids. Too smart for their own good. Some come from families with more than enough money to go around. So it's not always financial.
Some of these gang kids just have faulty wiring. No amount of family support, community support, educational support or social support will make a difference with them.
And some of them aren't even from York City or York County. They're from out of town or out of state. They come to York with thoughts of easy pickings and riches beyond their wildest imaginations.
And when they do, they bring drugs and violence to neighborhoods that deserve a lot better.
Police do their best, of course, but it's an uphill battle. There aren't enough cops or money to stem the tide, and the gangs know it.
So what's left? Chief Kahley calls on the community at large to help reclaim the streets, in particular parents of teenagers who need to set limits for their children and enforce them.
They "really need to get involved," Kahley said.
But Kahley is preaching to the choir, and he knows it. Because the people who hear his call for help aren't part of the problem. And the people who are part of the problem will not hear his call.
Thirty gangs in York City.
It's enough to boggle the mind.
Columns by Larry A. Hicks, Dispatch columnist, run Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. E-mail: email@example.com.