JJC Student Luis Gonzalez '24 on Reshaping the Courtroom Narrative Around Gangs

Juvenile Justice Clinic student Luis Gonzalez ’24 sat in class for the full 6-week Independent Forensic Gang Expert College course at LMU Loyola Law School. “We learned about the law surrounding expert qualifications and testimony together,” says Gonzalez. “We had many conversations about how important this work is and our hopes for the future.” 

The Independent Forensic Gang Expert College was founded in 2020 with the mission to train people with former gang involvement to become gang expert witnesses or courtroom experts. “For decades, the only ones testifying in court as gang experts have been police officers,” says Gonzalez. “However, police officers do not have intimate knowledge of how gangs work. Their knowledge is limited to the policing they conduct in our communities. The IFGEC provides expert testimony that counters the skewed and one-sided narrative that has been perpetuated by law enforcement.” 

This year, the gang college received a record number of applicants from across the state. “This is the first year we’ve had participants from all over California, not just Los Angeles. We’ve had formerly gang-involved individuals from San Diego, Orange County and Fresno in this cohort. Even though everyone is from different places and comes from different backgrounds, they all agree that kids are pushed into gang involvement by untreated trauma, poverty, violence in the home, and police misconduct," says Professor Sean Kennedy (LMU '86, LLS '89), Kaplan & Feldman Executive Director of the Center for Juvenile Law and Policy (CJLP) and founder of the Independent Forensic Gang Expert College. 

For Gonzalez, this experience has been rewarding and inspiring. “The thing that stood out to me the most was how passionate and resilient this group is," says Gonzalez. “For many of the students, the program meant re-living a lot of traumas they experienced growing up. That is a difficult thing to do. But no matter how difficult it got; the students kept going.” 

His biggest takeaway after this semester learning and volunteering in the gang college is that every one of us has a role in shaping the future of our communities.

"It takes as many people as possible to take every opportunity to get the truth into our courtrooms. This really highlights how changing our legal system is a collaborative effort," says Gonzalez.

After graduation, Gonzalez is excited to make a difference as a lawyer. "This experience has given me the faith and confidence that I can go out there and push the envelope to change our legal system for the better.”