Last year, Willard Elementary School student Joanna Ramos died at the young age of 10 after a street fight with an 11-year-old female classmate. Long Beach police described the incident as a “fight between two children that ended with unintended and tragic results.”
Though police contended there was no evidence that the east-Long Beach student was a victim of bullying, the incident no doubt remains a prime example of the devastating consequences of an altercation that becomes violent.
Long Beach city officials and community leaders are banding together this year to develop the Long Beach Violence Prevention Plan (LBVPP), with hopes of avoiding such tragedies in the future. The goal is to put together a comprehensive plan, to be fully written by the end of the year, for combating “family, school and community” violence with support and recommendations from a vast array of Long Beach stakeholders. The 18-month planning process is being funded through a $400,000 grant from the California Endowment foundation.
More than 50 people weighed in on the issues during a community-safety forum on Saturday, June 1 at Jordan High School in north Long Beach. The event was the third such forum organized in the city as a way to gather community input in developing the LBVPP. The last community-safety forum will be on Thursday, June 20 at El Dorado Park in east Long Beach.
“We realized that: we can’t write a plan from City Hall; that we need the community voice; we need residents such as yourself, coming out telling us not only what the problems are, but what are the solutions,” said Tracy Colunga, LBVPP coordinator. “We really believe that you have some of the solutions that we’ve been waiting to hear.”
The community forum was the first of a weeklong series of community events planned as a way to keep north Long Beach safe this summer. The forum also coincides with efforts to expand park programs in the uptown area as a way to discourage gang involvement and other illegal, negative activities, especially in light of summer school being cut this year. Public basketball courts and other facilities at Houghton Park stay open until 9pm.
Eighth District Long Beach Councilmember Al Austin said he was encouraged by the community showing up to give their input on how to come up with ways to prevent violence in the area and across the city.
“The input that you’ll give as a community is going to be very, very important for us to develop a plan that will allow us as a city to gain necessary resources to continue to do those programs and to prevent violence in the future,” he said. “Violence in any form and any shape has no place in this city or any part of the city… We have to come together as a community to make it happen.”
Also in attendance was 9th District Councilmember Steven Neal, in addition to Long Beach Police North Patrol Commander Robert Luman and Long Beach Police Administration Bureau Chief Braden Phillips.
By sometime next year, Long Beach will join 32 other cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland and San Francisco, in the United States that have adopted similar violence-prevention plans, she said, adding that the City enlisted the National League of Cities as a consultant for the project.
Colunga said, by working together to prevent violence, the hope is that over time there will be a reduction in violent-crime incidents.
The problem with violence is that it often has many unintended consequences.
A person victimized by violence, whether at home or on the school campus, at a young age may eventually become the offender later in life, affecting the entire community. Colunga said statistics show that about 80 percent of those individuals in jails and prisons were either abused as children or the witness to abuse as a child.
“So if we can prevent abuse at an early age or the witness of abuse at an early age, we can prevent some behaviors down the road to empower some young people to be able to take control of their lives,” Colunga said.
During the forum, University California Los Angeles (UCLA) graduate students provided research, expert information and statistics about Long Beach, the 90805 ZIP code and violence-related topics.
The students, who are part of Colunga’s class at UCLA, spent six months on the research project. Students gave presentations on family violence, bullying and human trafficking, while presentations on child abuse and gang violence are being provided online only.
UCLA graduate student Amie Eng said the World Trade Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 2010 declared family violence as an issue that must be addressed on a national level.
Though violence in the home can often lead to physical wounds, bruises and sometimes death, there are also invisible detriments, such as acute stress disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, high anxiety and substance abuse.
“Basically, what starts in the home does not stay in the home, and it actually has numerous consequences for everyone as a community,” Eng said. “Relationships form in the family… and set the stage for how you behave in adulthood.”
Family violence also comes with large economic costs, she said, adding that it is related to $4.1 billion in healthcare expenses nationwide, in addition to causing distractions for a person at work and loss of quality of life.
For Long Beach, violence in the family is of particular concern, she said, since statistics show that the city has more people living together per household than any other city in Los Angeles County.
Eng said many domestic-violence incidents go unreported in some Hispanic and Asian communities because of language barriers, instances she called “linguistic isolation.”
A high percentage of family violence incidents are carried out without a weapon, but through aggravated assault, and between spouses, Eng said, adding that communities need to do more to collaborate and create an open environment for families to bring such issues to light.
“Prevention really begins in the family, and this is really just to say to invest in the family as a unit,” she said.
In school, however, it appears bullying, which can stem from low self-esteem, depression, eating disorders or suicidal tendencies, is what leads to acts of violence, according to other UCLA students.
In many cases, bullying can lead to students being truant or dropping out of school. And no longer are students only bullied at school; they can be harassed online through social media sites such as Facebook.
The graduate students, however, recommended that Long Beach do more to combat human trafficking, which often leads to sexual and physical violence. The students, who said 84 percent of the human-trafficking victims reported in Los Angeles County come from the South Central L.A. or Long Beach area, added that there needs to be more services for victims and the City should continue to develop a human-trafficking task force, collaborating with the police department and community leaders.
After the student presentations, groups of 10 or more people took part in workshops in which they described areas in Long Beach where they feel the least safe and where incidents of violence or other illegal activities may occur more frequently.
Consultants Georgina Mendoza, safety director and senior deputy city attorney for the City of Salinas, and Mario Maciel, director of the gang-prevention task force in the City of San Jose, led the group discussions. The types of violence that were discussed included gang violence, human trafficking, prostitution, bullying, hate crimes, police brutality, racial violence, child abuse and sexual abuse.
Groups also described successful violence-prevention programs in the city that may need more support, while providing a list of ideas for new strategies. The group then took a collective vote to prioritize the subjects in terms of their importance to the safety of the community as a whole.
Feedback from each group will be compiled as part of the City’s ongoing process to develop a violence-prevention plan.
“There are no guarantees, but it does allow us to focus and leverage our resources and [increase] the probabilities of having success,” Maciel said. “Again, there’s no silver bullet, but what we want to be able to do is put a lid on this and diminish the violence to the extent that we can.” ß