The news that homicides are way down in LA despite economic tough times is a fantastic chance to highlight a lot of positive work that was done in 2010 and to step into 2011 with hope.
Each senseless homicide causes such emotional devastation for family and friends and creates such a domino impact of trauma and fear in concentrated neighborhoods; it is hard to put into words. Not to mention the economic toll of business not wanting to set up in inner-cities and the $1 million+ in tax dollars spent to process each gang homicide. While we still have a long way to go to ensure our kids' safety in many parts of LA -- I still see tensions around violence every day -- these gains give us much to celebrate.
The contributions of people behind the effort is important to recognize here, not only because they deserve it, but because it is an important lesson about what a significant impact people can make when they decide to get involved and do the right thing. At A Better LA, our slogan is that "it takes a team" to keep kids safe, and the success here is a perfect example.
At the top of law enforcement, Sheriff Baca, Chief Bratton and Chief Beck deserve tremendous praise. They have constantly worked to make suppression (arresting bad guys) more targeted and sophisticated. And they have balanced that strategy with empowering others to be accountable for stopping violence in their own communities. I first learned about A Better LA a few years ago when Sheriff Baca was training his staff and community members with self-empowerment curricula. I first met Chief Beck three years ago when he took the time out to gather with former gang members to just listen to them. My friend Bo Taylor, a former gang member himself, said after the meeting that it was "historic." It was, he said, the first time he had ever been at the table with anyone that high up in law enforcement and truly been listened to. These leaders had the courage to do what was right at a time when hanging out with former gang members, or teaching people to believe they can create change in their lives, were considered politically risky acts or too soft on crime.
Behind them was (and is) a diverse group of leaders who also stepped up to do the right thing, regardless of public perception at the time. One example that comes to mind was when Pete Carroll (A Better LA founder) and Connie Rice of the Advancement Project teamed up to lend their support to the Mayor's Office and their efforts behind gang reduction and Summer Night Lights - programs that many said were crazy. Other business leaders and foundations, by providing not only financial support to many programs, but also their names and reputations, created a crucial platform to allow people working on the front lines to do their job. They are unsung heroes here.
Then, there is the growing army of people on the front lines who I see taking accountability for the neighborhoods they work or live in, setting aside their past feelings of mistrust, hate, revenge and hopelessness, to work together. They are police officers - like Ray Bercini of the Sheriff's Department and Curtis Woodle of the LAPD (to name just a few) - who took on the Herculean task of being the first to navigate, and then be front line ambassadors for, this new way of policing. There are hundreds of former gang members who have turned their lives around and have formed a network of peacekeepers. As success grows (and police, business leaders and politicians support them), more and more want to join the team. The City funds and trains dozens of workers, our partner Aquil Basheer has trained over 300 workers from 90 neighborhoods, and many others volunteer without any official backing. These former enemies now meet regularly, hand out food and toys together, and constantly communicate to stop street violence.
Of course, there are other reasons, like the absence of a current drug epidemic, behind the numbers. And there are dozens of other people who deserve credit, many whom I know and many whom I don't know. But here is the point that should not be lost: When people stand up to get involved and do the right thing - whether they are a busy business person donating their time and reputation, an already stretched police officer going above and beyond the requirements of duty, or an inner-city resident brave enough to preach peace in a war zone - they can literally change the world. And, despite their impressive individual efforts, none of them can accomplish anything of significance alone. It takes all of them together to make this difference, and it will take them, and many more people joining the team, to get to goal - which is to have even lower homicide rates be the norm and not even worth writing about on New Year's Eves to come.
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