The recent violence in Pasadena, as shocking as it is, should not come as a big surprise to anyone who is familiar with this community. One could say the police (check out the flash on their web site!) have been successful with gang suppression–this does not equal eradication. We all have our theories about why violence occurs. My hope is that our philosophical disagreements about the socio-economic causes of violence do not get in the way of taking steps to prevent it. I hope the cause does not get boiled down to just one reason, such as certain people getting out of jail and re-entering the community (as mentioned in the 28 July 2007 LA Times article by Janet Pope Givens of the Pasadena Police Department).
Violence in the community is not just the problem of the police. No single institution can make up for lack of parenting, rage fueled by substance abuse, and the violence that accompanies illegal drug-dealing. Neither the police nor the school district are equipped to deal with the the complex problems that lead to violence, yet these problems present themselves to the people who work in those institutions every day.
Both PUSD and the Pasadena Police take steps to deal with issues that may technically be out of the purview of their missions, yet very relevant to their work. For example, the County of Los Angeles has been funding mental health services at Pasadena Unified schools–this is critically important and should be continued (and funding increased–my anecdotal information indicates the need for services is great).
Also with funding from the County of Los Angeles, the Pasadena Police Department has established the HOPE team to deal with the homeless mentally ill in Pasadena.
The police play a critical role both in law enforcement and crime prevention, and they deserve community support. However, I am aware of a couple of situations that help me understand why some community members have difficulty trusting the police.
On one hand, I have known a 2nd generation gang member who served time prison and was really trying to turn his life around and support his kids. When he got out, he was harassed by the police who wrestled him to the ground and then arrested for assaulting an officer. He and his family ultimately left Pasadena (which is what the police probably wanted). I saw first-hand how hard it was for the kids to be uprooted, to leave extended family, friends and teachers.
On the other hand, I have known some characters who were clearly were engaged in illegal activities, but the perception on the street was that these individuals received protection from the police in exchange for information.
Now the police have the difficult task of mending community relationships while trying to pursue the perpetrators of the recent violence. The City needs to support the police department by funding activities that keep youth engaged and off the street. Not just sports, but arts programs too. The Summer ROSE (Rewarding Opportunities in Summer Employment) program for teenagers has been reduced over the last 15-20 years, and that trend needs to be reversed.
The Temptation to Start Something New
After the 1993 Halloween murders, the Coalition for a Non-Violent City was founded. It was well meaning, and for a while it was well-funded. But it never truly engaged community members, and where is it now? I tried to find the organization’s web site through Google but no luck.
Google did tell me just how well-funded that Coalition was. Almost $150,000 from the federal government and another $50,000 from the Weingart Foundation (for a program coordinator and a development consultant). I think the Coalition received another $50,000 from The California Endowment too, though yesterday’s link has become today’s mystery. The City of Pasadena coughed up Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) money for a capital project. I’m not sure about direct connection of this project to the Coalition’s work. (From the Council Agenda – March 6, 2000):
AGREEMENT WITH COALITION FOR A NON-VIOLENT CITY FOR THE IMPROVEMENT OF MOUNTAIN PLACE
Recommendation of City Manager:
(a) Authorize the City Manager to enter into an agreement with the Coalition for a Non-Violent City for the City to provide engineering and construction services for the improvement of Mountain Place.
(b) Amend the FY 2000 Capital Improvement Program to include the Improvement of Mountain Place and approve a journal voucher to recognize receipt of and appropriate up to $100,000 of Community Development Block Grant Funds from the Coalition for a Non-Violent City into new Budget Account No. 73119 for this project.
So around $350,000 was devoted to the work of eliminating violence in this community, and we have little to show for it. I haven’t been down to Mountain Place to see how those improvements are holding up.
Hopefully, we won’t start something new this time. I hope we use the institutions, organizations and community groups we already have to create the atmosphere of trust and respect for community members to engage in a meaningful way.