It has been a violent summer in Long Beach.
Last month was the most violent June in recent years with 18 shootings directed at people, five of them fatal, according to police. July has already witnessed two fatal stabbings and, according to the Press Telegram, at least five shootings.
To top it off, rumors spread from social media to residents that a local gang has planned to target black women in acts of violence. Police spokespeople have labeled the rumors untrue, based on intelligence and interviews with gang members.
But 2015 murders are so far on par with last year’s trend, mentioned LBPD Sgt. Megan Zabel. 2015’s murders total 15. The total for today’s date last year was 16.
But many residents remain worried. Community activists are holding meetings with organizations and clergy to brainstorm solutions that might abate further violence.
“Everybody knows this is a peak time for violence,” said Jessica Quintana, executive director of Centro CHA, to a meeting of about 20 organizers and religious leaders. “Since 2010, we haven’t had this kind of violence.”
June saw five murders; last year’s June had one. Community members attributed the rise in crime to large cuts in local youth programs since the recession. Police said that an increase in crime is usually expected in the summer since many youth are out of school. “It’s unfortunate but we do expect that and see that year after year,” Sgt. Zabel said.
Members of One Long Beach Alliance, the group Quintana is part of, are hoping for the reimplementation of Safe Passages, a program that had community members supervise students walking between school and home.
They also want immediate city support for the Summer Night Lights program, which extended hours at parks, occupied youth with activities, and even provided medical screenings.
The police department is coordinating with other city departments to hash out solutions, as well, Sgt. Zabel said. “It’s a responsibility for everybody to be involved in making our city safe,” Sgt. Zabel said.
VoiceWaves asked five local residents and community leaders: “How can the city reduce violence in neighborhoods?”
Jessica Quintana, Executive Director of Centro CHA
“I think the city can reduce violence and create safe places by investment. It has to be a community-government partnership. That’s what’s truly going to work in our city. We’ve been doing this work for over 20 years and it’s been a heavy lift on the community side, so we really need a government-community partnership to make it work…We (should be) constantly meeting as a group to look at best practices, to look at funding, and to promote youth development.
Right now folks don’t feel that they’re safe. They don’t feel that there’s unity. They don’t feel that’s there’s support from our government. We have a new body of city council, we have a new mayor, and we have a new chief of police. The time is now.”
Dr. Lydia Hollie, former chair of Long Beach Youth and Gang Violence Prevention Task Force 2005 – 2009
“Jobs are the antidote to gang violence… Why don’t we have the business community or someone who’s interested in new business start-ups conduct sessions on how to become a successful entrepreneur? Now we’re taking young people who may have brilliant ideas, but nowhere place to put them, no one to listen to them.
It’s not any one thing, it’s looking at a pathways. What has worked and was successful but was dropped because there’s no money? If our young people can stay alive, Long Beach would be a much better place.”
Sevly Snguon, age 22, Long Beach youth
“The city and police need to (have) a better understanding of how to support people in (troubled) communities. I don’t think people perpetuate violence because they just want to, but because they’re facing certain issues and oppression and feeling unsupported which can contribute to them lashing out in different forms of violence. Sometimes they’re facing violence in their home, or in life and with getting jobs. Police and the city council are not really understanding those communities and supporting them the way they need to be supported.”
Maria Becerra, Senior Organizer for Centro CHA
“The first [step to reduce violence in Long Beach] is to provide money to the organizations that serve the communities that not only impact the children, but the families. It’ll get them jobs and training and keep them busy throughout the whole year. The city officials have money; the port of Long Beach has a lot of money. The business community can be a source of income… Why don’t we get some of the businesses to contribute to the Long Beach One Alliance for on-going programs.”
Rev. Leon Wood, Executive Pastor at Church One
“People are hurting. They need employment. Our young people need education; they need programs. When people don’t have those things they resort to other activities.
One thing we can do is create a better after-school program. We can have programs that are directed for young people to make sure that they are entertained and that they also are learning. We also need part-time employment opportunities for young people. When a family has an income and they’re living somewhat decently, there’s a peace in the house. When they are living peacefully… there’s not so much anger. Right now, what we’re seeing is a community of young angry people.”