For decades, politicians have tried to break the cycle of violence by hiring more police and implementing new laws. Those strategies and other penalties, however, have limitations because they do little to prevent the next generation from following the same destructive path.
City officials seem as stumped as anyone when it comes to knowing how to break the cycle of violence that, in the city of San Francisco alone, claimed 98 lives in 2008. As the city’s mayor, Gavin Newsom said: “Nothing that I have tried to resolve has been more frustrating and vexing than solving the issue of why a 14-year-old would take the life of a 15-year-old with a weapon of war.”
Further, as the U.C. Berkeley School of Law researchers recently reported, gangs terrorize the same neighborhoods over and over again (according to the January 2, 2009 edition of the San Francisco Chronicle).
As a crime and violence prevention consultant, I am aware that gang leaders, gunrunners and drug dealers intimidate neighbors and instill fear against the police so they can control neighborhoods and continue, “business as usual.”
Police often focus on “hot spot” neighborhoods. However, after a sweep to eliminate criminals, neighbors need immediate follow up with “hands on” help from neighborhood organizers. Without support, new criminals gradually emerge to fill the void.
So how can the cycle of violence be broken?
BE A COMMUNITY ACTIVIST
Community activists can play an important role to help end the social isolation that fuels crime, drug abuse and violence.
Activists can promote the simple act of neighbors working together which reduces fear and restores hope. Community organizers can identify neighborhood leaders and enlist support from businesses and churches. Organizers can train neighbors on how to run meetings, plan agendas and motivate neighbors. Activists can start new discussions on citizen involvement and show how organized neighborhoods can help strengthen families.
When people feel empowered and develop confidence, they stop the “no snitch” attitude and report burglars, rapists, gang members, predators and drug dealers.
KEEP FAMILIES SAFE!
Ideas to keep neighborhood groups going and growing:
1. Neighbors need good communication to stay connected and can do so with regular meetings, phone trees, email networks or possibly a newsletter.
2. Community leaders (neighbors, churches, civic groups) can plan social gatherings, block parties, establish block parent programs, map neighborhoods for safety, create community gardens, plan youth safety day, implement emergency preparedness, help other neighbors form “Neighborhood Watch” groups, etc.
3. Local officials can promote citizen involvement and reward neighbors for creating safe neighborhoods with new benches, improved lighting, etc.
4. Community groups can sponsor youth poster or essay contests.
5. Business groups or government agencies can promote healthy competition between neighborhoods like jump rope, basketball, skateboard, singing and dancing contests.
6. Local officials can honor and recognize neighborhood leaders!
Together neighbors provide a check and balance on domestic violence and destructive youth behavior. When neighbors work together, they care about each other, speak up and help solve problems.
Citizen involvement should be a community project that creates healthy, safe neighborhoods for families – and helps to reverse the cycle of violence.
WHAT YOU CAN DO
- Talk to your local representatives and police chief.
- Offer assistance to help educate your community.
- Make presentations to local civic, business and prevention groups and get their input on how to strengthen families.
- Educate and encourage community leaders to focus on “circles of support” for families.
Follow the example of: Rebecca Kimbel, Area Governor of Toastmasters’ International, Inc. who became a community activist in her community. She makes presentations throughout Northern California and writes for local newspapers. You can become an advocate for kids. See: www.safekidsnow.com and contact us for more information.
Stephanie Mann is the author of 3 national crime prevention books. “Safe Homes, Safe Neighborhoods: Stopping crime where you live” can be found in major libraries or online at http://www.safekidsnow.com