Sylvia Paz, Special to The Desert Sun Published 10:27 a.m. PT March 24, 2016 | Updated 10:32 a.m. PT March 24, 2016
What are we doing to prevent gang violence?
Recently, there has been a lot of focus on gang violence in the city of Coachella and the need to increase policing to “eliminate the problem.” Although, this approach may offer a temporary relief, it does not address the root of the problem. I pose the question: “Are local institutions doing enough to invest resources for our community to thrive?”
The recent article written by Brett Kelman and Kristen Hwang, “The Vicious Cycle: Coachella Kids Cornered by Gangs,” misses an opportunity to engage in new dialogue about the symptoms of violence that often manifest themselves in our community. As difficult as it may be to believe, there is organized crime across the Coachella Valley. Rather than sensationalizing the struggles of some communities through a narrative of fear WE need to figure out our role in ensuring that ALL communities in the valley have a fair shot at being vibrant, healthy and sustainable.
We – police officers, elected officials, teachers, students, and community members – need to take a proactive approach to address violence and it begins with looking at our own health as a community. As a mother and an aunt to children who are going through our public school system, I strongly believe that it takes a village to raise a child. Although policing and incarceration has been the go-to solution to “fix” communities that face a long history of disinvestment, clearly it has not worked. We have a responsibility to foster an environment where the right choice is the easy choice.
Currently, there is a visible disparity in the way investment reaches our communities. We need to stand up and speak out for a Coachella Valley that will invest equitably across its population to ensure that all children’s needs are attended to in our schools and dismantle the school to prison pipeline. Stand up and speak out for a Coachella Valley that will invest equitably across its population to ensure that every child can come to a home in a neighborhood with complete and safe streets, parks, healthy food options and a faucet that delivers clean drinking water. Stand up and speak out for a Coachella Valley that will invest in its strongest economic engine – the people who live, shop, and work here – and ensure that everyone has access to what I see is really a human right, the right to preventative health care.
It should be to nobody’s surprise that when a child is not provided with the social, emotional, and economic support in their schools or community they will turn to other options, in this case maybe gangs.
Instead of talking about gang violence as a singular problem and as if these “gang members” were from another planet, let’s invest in upstream solutions that will improve our community’s health. Stand up and speak out for a Coachella Valley that works for all.
Silvia Paz is director of Building Healthy Communities Coachella Valley, a health equity initiative of The California Endowment. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.