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EDITORIAL: Gangs enemy No. 1

Since Mayor Giuliani took office nearly six years ago, the city has experienced a historic reduction in crime, especially violent crime. Although the numbers have inched their way back up in the last six months, the fact remains that southeast Queens is safer today than at any time since the 1960s. That's the good news.

The bad news is that we are seeing an alarming increase in the number of youth involved in violent gangs. They are the Crips, the Bloods, the Latin Kings and dozens of others. These gangs threaten to undo much of the progress that has been made.

The gangs offer a family and a sense of belonging. They offer a sense of security. They also greatly increase the likelihood that the people involved will die a violent death. The gangs flourish in a society where families continue to disintegrate.

As we near the dawn of a new millennium, we see no greater threat to the welfare of the children of Queens than the growth of these gangs. At a recent symposium held at Brooklyn Tech on the problems of youth violence, speaker after speaker sounded the alarm about the growth of gangs.

The criminal justice system got caught with its pants down. They didn't see this gang problem coming and now they have to deal with 13-year-old boys who say that if they try to quit the gangs their lives could be in danger.

Police, religious and community leaders must do more to educate the public about the nature of these gangs. Parents must learn how to recognize the signs of gang involvement and the best - and safest - way of removing a child from a gang. Until now, society has done far too little to rid itself of the blight of violent gangs. It's time to declare an all-out war against the gangs that threaten the peace we have fought so had to win in the neighborhoods of New York.

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