Direct intervention can save at-risk youth

Photo/Anthony Victoria: A protester films San Bernardino Police patrol cars as they pass through D Street.
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The same issues that have plagued San Bernardino for nearly five decades are once again causing an uproar across gang-afflicted and poverty-stricken neighborhoods. Is there anything we can do to quell gun violence and gang involvement in our city?

Ideas proposed by organizations such as the Inland Congregations United for Change (ICUC) and city leaders to form strong community partnerships and greater resident involvement is a step in the right direction.

Yet the only way we can make a significant impact for at-risk youth is to face the problem head on. Prayer vigils and marches shed light on the lives that have been lost, but direct intervention can do something to save them.

The city’s homicide rate currently stands at 41. The last time the rate was this high at mid-year was back in 1992. San Bernardino recorded 75 homicides that year and a nation-leading 82 the following year, as reported by the San Bernardino Sun back on July 17, 1996.

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An enhancement in police presence eventually helped the San Bernardino Police Department crackdown on gang violence, decreasing the rate of homicides by 1996. Unfortunately, SBPD is currently working with approximately one-third fewer officers that it had before bankruptcy. Police chief Jarrod Burguan has expressed his desire to fill the 30 vacancies his department has as soon as possible, though doing so may take some time. Can we afford to stand by and stay idle?

Although not all homicides that have occurred in the city are gang related, it’s safe to say the majority are tied to organized crime. San Bernardino Police Chief Jarrod Burguan confirmed last week that most of the city’s homicide perpetrators and victims are criminally tied to drugs and gangs. That shouldn’t stop us from being concerned. While most argue that law-abiding residents are not prone to the lures of gang life, it doesn’t mean they are isolated.

It’s why we cannot remain silent, apathetic, or indifferent about what’s going in San Bernardino. It’s time to act on the resilience we claim to project.

We can begin by volunteering at local community centers such as the Boys and Girls Club or the United Nations of Consciousness-ran Anne Shirrells Community Center. The Garcia Center for the Arts is one place where art instruction is available and mentors are very much needed.

Strong partnerships between law enforcement agencies and nonprofit organizations have also yielded some positive results. We should continue to urge our local officials to do more to unify collaboration.

The Cops4Kids program ran by Carlos Palomino has received ample financial and personal support from local law enforcement agencies. Recently the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Academy Class 201 donated approximately $8,000 to the program, and many of the agency’s officers volunteer their time to train at-risk youth at the gym.

Similarly, the Victory Outreach church assists not only youth and young adults entrapped in gangs and drugs, but also recently released felons looking for a second chance. Through prayer services and drug/gang intervention programs, the church’s youth pastor Rick Alanis Jr. believes they could see results. “We believe there is hope…for the addict, the gang member, and the lonely mother,” Alanis said during the Common Ground for Peace Walk last Thursday.

It’s all about building trust in those communities that see the most violence and endure the most lack of opportunity, explained Creating Hopeful Opportunities and Resiliency by Developing Skills (C.H.O.R.D.S.) music program CEO Edwin Johnson. “These are the people affected by the crime and violence. They have to know someone is out there willing to listen.”

So how can we do our small part to contribute to the reduction of crime? By becoming mentors for city youth, or at least, setting aside some time to listen to their concerns. Intervening in the life of a young person can literally be a life or death situation.


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