Word Nerd

The first step is reaching out

Prevention, intervention and suppression are the three legs of gang elimination strategies, but they will only delay gangs, not remove them, if the culture of the community isn't also changed alongside those efforts.

That's the message that Deputy Police Chief Phil Schenck is trying to get across to the leadership of Sunnyside. And it's important enough to repeat.

We have to change the culture of the people living in Sunnyside in order to make anti-gang efforts a success.

In order to succeed in changing the way Sunnysiders think about gangs and police, we need to know what we are dealing with. The best way to do that is to get out into the community to talk and work with people. But we can also get a hint just by looking at data from the most recent census.

The population of Sunnyside in 2010 was 15,858 according to stats available on http://census.gov. That was a 14 percent increase from the year 2000, the last census, which matches pretty closely with the statewide population growth.

Sunnyside's population is 82.2 percent self-described Hispanic or Latino. Statewide that same statistic is 11.2 percent. It's safe to say that the community is overwhelmingly Hispanic.

Of the total population, 35 percent are foreign born. 95.6 percent of those were born in Latin America. Think about that. Over one third of the population of Sunnyside wasn't born in the United States.

We have several different ethnicities and home cultures clashing in this city. We sometimes make assumptions based on our own background that make no sense to someone with a slightly different background. As an example, someone raised with the notion that the schoolmaster is the only authority in a child's education may not comprehend what is being asked when local schools try to involve parents.

Ignoring the contentious issues of immigration, it's clear that in order to change the culture we need to connect with the people that make up our community and find out why children get into gangs. The causes may be more diverse than we think.

We all love our children, so what has happened that makes gang life appealing to them? Is it poverty, fear or something else? Can we, as a community, reach past our prejudices and pinpoint the problems that have allowed gangs to thrive, then fix those problems together?

We need to stop fearing those groups we don't belong to and open a dialogue. True, we may need interpreters, but that's better than more misunderstandings and mutual dislike.

This isn't going to be easy and it won't be done in a day. But if we truly wish to live in safety without the constant threat of gangs, we must start to work together instead of blaming each other.

Suppression can only be sustained for so long. Prevention and intervention need to be built up. And while we work on those, let's learn about our neighbors and use that understanding to create a united community, not made up of us versus them.

I'm in, what about you?

1 Laura Gjovaag 5/11/2012 3:22 PM


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