From Newtown to My Town

By Sheila Blandon

I first heard about the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary through online media.

I saw all the attention it got by the media and social networks. As soon as I saw news of the shooting I already expected it to be covered nationally. At the same time, communities and government officials began to take action. The national debate about gun control has heated up once again.

My heart goes out to those hurt by the Connecticut tragedy – to all of those killed, their families and classmates, and their communities. But with all respect to those victims, as I watched the news coverage grow, I couldn’t help but think about my own city. People here are shot and killed regularly, sometimes in broad day light. Our community also suffers from this issue of gun violence on a daily basis.

We’ve lost men and women, too – young adults and teenagers. Even little children, like 5-year old Gabriel Martinez Jr., 3-year old Carlos Nava and 1-year old Hiram Lawrence Jr. – all killed in crossfires. And yet, nothing has caught the attention of those that have the power to improve our circumstances.

Some of our local leaders are scrambling for solutions. Last December, 11 current and former Bay Area mayors signed a letter to President Obama that calls on the president to push reforms to strengthen federal gun trafficking laws and require criminal background checks for every gun sale, and asks him to appoint a director to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (it’s been 6 years since the bureau has had a confirmed director).

But boosting law enforcement and police presence in our communities won’t really help our city without a more holistic solution that deals with roots of the violence in our streets. Oakland’s young people need more support systems that help those who engage in crime get out of that lifestyle instead of incarcerating them. Give them something to do everyday and motivate them to change for better. Build organizations that teach them job skills. Once they’re occupied, people won’t have their minds so much on negative things and they won’t have to go to the extreme of shooting someone for something they need.

Our communities have become immune to the violence and this can no longer be accepted. If residents themselves do not take action and create awareness, we will continue to live this nightmare. Community members can patrol their own neighborhoods by simply taking a walk around their neighborhood. This will create a more friendly environment and others will become motivated and hopefully feel safe walking around their own homes. This will soon create unity between neighbors, cultivating a community and more awareness on what’s going down in their community. Is time that we unite, to help our city. Another alternative can be to attend city hall meetings and becoming more active on the local political level.

Some people get involved with crime because they have no other choice but to break into someone’s home or rob someone. They are hungry or they have mouths to feed. This leads to many killings because they will eventually get caught if victims are alive to identify them and testify against them. We can not keep identifying them as gang-related or thugs.

If we look deep into their lives, we will see that most of these youth and adults who commit crimes feel hopeless and live in poverty. Their circumstances often push them to engage in crime because they are desperate for a solution. Living in poverty can put you under many different types of pressures. Having no money, shelter or clothes can make people feel like they need to get their hands on something quick and easy. Getting a job is a long process, and even more challenging if you have a criminal background. Once they are released they will be under more stress because of bail or restitution fees, and go back to doing what they know how to do. It’s all a cycle. Incarcerating them as a consequence can only make the situation worse.

I am not saying they should be free to go after committing a crime or killing someone. But creating more opportunities for youth, while they are young, will be an essential component in keeping our youth off the streets. In fact some of our killings are gang-related. But we cannot blame those youth who end up joining a gang because they are neglected at home or don’t have a support system.

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