Street violence and violent crime are equal opportunity destroyers: they reach into rural communities like Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania, where five Amish school girls lost their lives to gun violence; into downtown Los Angeles, where gang violence occurs daily; into the suburbs of Littleton, Colorado, home of Columbine High; and into the sprawling desert community of Tucson, Arizona, where Congresswomen Gabrielle Giffords and 12 others were shot and another six died, including a child.
While about 300 children and adults are victims of gun violence daily in the United States and more than 80 children and adults die each day from gunshot wounds, the threat of street violence also holds millions of people captive and fearful in their homes in communities large and small. Parents ask themselves:
- Is it too dangerous for my children to walk to school?
- Will it ever be safe for my children to play outside?
- How can I be sure gun violence won't erupt in my child's school?
Adults are also afraid for their own safety. Fear of gun violence and violent crime prevent many adults, especially women and older people, from going out alone or at night, which limits their ability to work, seek medical care, socialize, and buy groceries. In a country that values freedom, millions of Americans do not feel free to safely walk in their own neighborhoods.
Programs to reduce street and gun violence and promote safe neighborhoods are in place, and their success depends on the participation of citizens in every community. They include:
- after-school events that engage young people in creative activities like hip-hop dance, sports, karate, art, and yoga
- citizen neighborhood watch groups that patrol their streets to discourage street violence and crime
- enlistment of former gang members to interact with current gang members to help quell gang violence
- mentor programs to provide positive role models or peer support
- job programs to help young people and adults learn marketable skills and how to enter the job market
- counseling programs for anger management, drug abuse, parenting skills, building self-esteem
- religious or spiritually based programs to help foster moral and ethical values
Gun violence in the United States is getting worse, according to the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence. This fact is mobilizing citizens in large cities to farm regions to tackle violent crime and take back their communities. Programs such as CeaseFire and Guardian Angels are showing great success in reducing street violence and gang violence. You can help.
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In some cases, volunteer and/or mentor programs may require participants to complete orientation or training sessions, after which they can volunteer on their own schedule. You should discuss these possibilities with program leaders.
- Become a mentor to an at-risk young person. There is a critical lack of mentors who can serve as positive role models for millions of young men and women who want to steer clear of violent crime and make their lives better. Mentor is a national partnership organization that helps match potential mentors with mentees based on interests, goals, and time availability.
- Participate in or start a neighborhood watch organization. The National Sheriffs' Association has a program called USAonWatch that helps concerned citizens start or participate in neighborhood watch groups.
- Offer to teach skills that reduce stress and anger and help promote self-esteem, self-control, and inner balance, such as yoga, meditation, karate, or tai chi. Programs such as the Mind Body Awareness Project, which provides these opportunities to at-risk and incarcerated youth, have found that these skills help reduce violence in young people and help improve self-awareness and calm.
- Help organize neighborhood events that allow neighbors to meet, know, and better understand each other, such as a block party, sporting event, or picnic. Such events can be facilitated by a religious organization, law enforcement organization, civic group, or neighborhood organization.
- Participate in a neighborhood policing program (if there is one in your area) or help start one. Neighborhood policing models operate in many cities across the United States and involve a close working relationship between police and the community. For example, police partner with clergy, business leaders, youth, and other citizens to solve problems such as gang and gun violence before they escalate. Beat policing is also a hallmark of the program, and voluntary citizen attendance and participation at regular beat meetings held in the community are another way you can help reduce street violence. You can read about neighborhood policing programs in Boston and in Lakewood, Washington, as examples of how these two communities are working to reduce street violence.
- Be a positive role model and share your skills or experiences with young people. Schools often invite community members to speak to students on topics such as self-esteem, career choices, gang violence, bullying, and similar subjects. You can share your expertise with one or more classes or an entire school, depending on the topic and needs of the school. One exceptional example of this effort is the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, started by Azim Khamisa after his 20-year-old son was a victim of gang violence. Azim contacted the guardian of his son's assailant, Ples Felix, and together the men speak to youths and help end street and gang violence through peace building.
- Offer an internship or job training opportunity to one or more at-risk youth, if you are in a position to do so; or if you work for a company or organization, talk to them about making such an offer. Recent research shows that "Job training has been identified as a powerful strategy to reduce youth gang violence," as well as improve school attendance and increase community involvement.
For more information about how to reduce street and gun violence and other violent crime, the Center for the Study and Prevention of Violence offers free, searchable databases and publications online.