There is an alarming number of recent homicides in urban communities across the United States, including here in the Bay Area.
Oakland has had a stream of killings that has drawn national attention, moving the Bay Area city into the same disturbing spotlight as Chicago and Detroit. The windy city had a recent crime spree that left 12 people dead and 62 wounded in gun violence. Although there has been some media attention and a few violence prevention conferences planned, there still seems to be a lack of political leadership addressing the issue.
How many lives must be lost before urban violence makes it on the agenda of our elected officials?
It was honorable of President Barack Obama to make a statement after the controversial George Zimmerman verdict, which sparked debates on racism within the criminal justice system. However, Trayvon Martin is just one of thousands of young people killed annually in communities throughout these United States.
I was recently invited to a panel on the subject of urban violence and possible solutions. There is no quick solution to the issue of violence. I believe the most important element is working toward changing the culture of violence, which is what I consider the root of the problem. A good illustration is to think of a gardener who has a problem with weeds growing in his yard. He doesn’t just cut the weeds; he digs out the root of the weed so that it doesn’t continue to grow.
More parenting classes, youth programs, employment development, conflict resolution and anger management courses that are facilitated through the entities throughout the city will have an effective long-term impact on the culture of violence.
There are so many factors involved in the recent history of violence. There is a culture of violence that is present in the current urban environment and in certain communities. I believe that community involvement in support of the local authorities will change the culture of violence in our society as a whole. There is a creed that violence is the one and only solution to resolving conflicts.
As a facilitator of conflict resolution and violence prevention sessions, I often use the quote, “We act violent because we think violent, we think violent because we believe in violence, we believe in violence because we are taught violence.” That comes from Malcolm X.
With that, I believe the collective community, faith-based organizations, the school district and local authorities should work in harmony to emphasize the need for peace, value for life and the need for alternative resolutions to conflicts.
I understand that this is a tall order, but anything else would be like putting a Band-Aid on a bullet wound. Removing access to handguns and increasing police presence will help but will not resolve the deeper issue of violence.
Having stricter gun laws and increasing sentences for violent crime will act as a deterrent, but will be a reactive, not a proactive approach. The gang and drug activities also make up a good portion of the violent crime. Having specific plans in place to address the gang- and drug-related crimes will reduce violent incidents as well. As mentioned above, developing effective programs that help educate the public is a solid starting point in making Oakland a safer city.
I am not under the illusion that man can resolve the world biggest issue, which is the lack of love and value for life in general. The complete resolution of violence will only come from a higher authority, but in the meantime we need to do our part to save as many lives as possible.
The first step is to simply care.