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Saturday, April 21, 2012

16 is an age not a homocide youth violence has affected MY COMMUNITY...

I'm awake, up on a beautiful Saturday morning to the drone of fans, yes, it is already that hot. My girls and grandson sleeping in, the house is quiet. I think of how grateful I am that they are here asleep and safe in bed. I never really gave a second thought to letting them go down to the park, or go hang out with their friends or even worried about the two block walk to school for my highschooler. Now I am going to make sure their phones are paid even though I really cannot afford it and that I know what they are doing every second of the day. This little town is not so safe as I thought it was. A young man lost his life this week, a 16 year old boy killed by a 15 year old boy at 2:30 in the afternoon on a school day. I have a hard time wrapping my head around that. I like everyone else who heard about it sat and wondered if it was someone we knew, my daughter is 16 also. Was it someone she had grown up with? I know some were calling their family members to be reassured that it was not anyone they were related to. It was on Facebook by 6 pm that day, the young man's name was Jesse Espinoza. My daughter was not sure if she knew him, but it did not matter to her because the mere fact that someone her age had died because of "gang violence" was what made his death a tragedy.
I don't want to write about the details of how Jesse lost his life, I want to write about the fact that he was someones son. I pray that his family draws strength from their faith and the community. His friends and family say he was a good kid, always smiling, joking around. The people in this town care and have come together because we are tired of hearing that our young people are becoming statistics.
Statistics say 16 youths die every day to homocide. Statistics that reflect the rise of gang violence in our sleepy ag town, Madera, California. A Facebook page was set up the following day by a pair of young people who want to see change. The group is called "STOP GANG VIOLENCE", and has grown to 914 invites or added two days! Now I know some people will say, "Yeah you are living in lala land... gangs will always be around." And while that is true, people don't need to accept it or tolerate it. The simple fact is that these were young men who had their whole lives ahead of them.That is what really upsets me. Everyone involved was under 18. What are our kids thinking when they are walking the streets with guns? The media is highlighting the fact that these boys all had "gang affiliation", and also that they were in a continuation school, because they had been expelled from the district. I don't want to make that the focus here, I want to make the fact that they were kids the who maybe got into trouble, made some bad choices for whatever reason, but they were kids.
People have posted comments on Facebook that it starts in the home, and I believe that, but I also know that kids will do what they want to do. It is a different time from when I grew up in the 70's and 80's. Kids have a lot coming at them today. They want to feel important. As the mom of three daughters I have been raising pretty much alone for the last 20 years, I have had to work and take care of them. I know I can't be everpresent in their daily lives. My kids have made some decisions that have changed their lives, but I am and always have been here for them. Parents are not always the problem. Peers have a heavy influence on the choices teens make today. I have been dealing with just that with one of my children.
In 2010 the homicide rate for people aged 10-24 in Madera County was 11.39 per 100,000 residents according to this link Thousands of teens have been in and out of the Department of Juvenile Justice's CYA in the state of California, most of them for violent crimes, yet the DJJ like every other intstitution has faced severe cuts. In 1997 the DJJ had 10,000 residents compared to the 1279 residents in a 6 month period in 2010 according to this link an informative paper written about the DJJ and CYA. Teens have only gotten more violent. 20 percent of homicides are gang related in 88 large cities according to CDC, yet the average number of youths in gangs varies according to certain factors,7% to 26%, these factors which include parental monitering, coping skills, reducing delinquency, and reducing drug and alcohol use would decrease a childs chances of becoming involved in gangs. The thing that I see missing is peer pressure.....I know in the final analysis what I have taught my children is important, that it is at the crux of their moral compass, but I also know from firsthand experience that teens are heavily influenced by outside factors.
In order to make a difference our community has got to band together, be willing to work with local law enforcement agencies, communicate with our young people, open a dialogue that encourages everyone to be positively involved. If one child listens and has hope for their future then what are we waiting for? The CDC has programs to reduce youth violence to learn more about STRYVE view the video and go to the link above.

I do know that I, like Louis and Gloria Hardesty, the Facebook group founders of STOP GANG VIOLENCE!/groups/363564637012675/ want to see something positive come out of this tragedy. I hope that we can make STRYVE  a local campaign. I want to know that my kids can walk to the store or school or go hang out with their friends and that my community is watching them. It breaks my heart to even write about this, but fear is a big motivator, I don't want to be afraid for my kids and grandson anymore, I want to be hopeful.When you are sixteen you should be learning to drive a car, thinking about the trivial things like what to wear to school, texting your friends or even more important things like planning your future, what school to go to, not thinking, "Will I be a homocide statisitic?"


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