By Andrew Dinsmoor, Senior Staff Writer
According to the Omaha World-Herald, there were 16 gang-related homicides and 1,312 aggravated assaults in Omaha in 2010.
Gang violence is increasing in Omaha. We’re not talking about Detroit, Atlanta or Los Angeles. Gang violence is increasing nationwide because it’s spreading and rooting in the country’s small-and-medium-sized cities as well as larger ones, according to the 2006 article “Gang Violence: An Environment of Fear,” by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. In the rolling hills of Omaha, youth and adults are killing each other in cold blood. Out of sight, in this case, does not mean out of mind.
For every murder, there’s a killer and a victim. Now, behind each of these terrifying labels, imagine a 3-year-old boy riding around on his tricycle or a little girl feeding her goldfish. Innocence is their pasts. Calamities become their futures. For every gang, there’s a broken community. In every gang, there are children who have been steered in the wrong direction by their misfortunes or environment.
“I live in South Omaha,” UNO freshman Hugo Zamorano said. “Some kids in South Omaha get into gangs because they think it’s cool — it’s their environment.”
As illustrated in pop-culture movies like “Dangerous Minds,” “Coach Carter” and “Freedom Writers,” troubled youths join gangs as a source of family, safety and survival. Do you see any cycles forming?
Defeating gang violence will take a multi-tiered effort, starting with paying close attention to all aspects of a child’s life. The family life, school system and community as a whole must all be addressed.
On Jan. 19, I interviewed the Rev. John Voner, president of Enough is Enough, an organization targeting youth at risk for gang activity.
“Parents need to take an active role in a child’s life — find out who their friends are,” Voner said.
Voner said suppressing gang violence is an effort that must involve every level of the community. Youth must get involved and remain active in organizations. For example, Enough is Enough is initiating spring and summer programs to increase community involvement of at-risk youth.
Young people often turn to gangs when there’s no family they can depend on. Bad parents are often a product of bad parents. This creates the first factor that perpetuates gang violence.
When there’s grief or heartache in a person’s life, he or she will sometimes turn to anything to escape. Getting children involved at a young age in after-school activities and organizations like Enough is Enough will give them an outlet when their parents or neighborhoods are negative influences. Every child needs a place, and involvement will help ensure that every child has one.
Schools also play a vital role in keeping at-risk youth from joining gangs. If you give a child a thirst for education, he or she will be be more motivated to graduate, regardless of family issues. School must be a place of refuge and support for children. However, 1,000 Omaha youth drop out of high school each year and one-third of OPS freshmen fail to graduate within four years, according to the Omaha World-Herald.
But there’s success to be had.
The Gang Risk Intervention Program at Lennox Middle School in Inglewood, Calif., has an 80 percent success rate of participants who graduate from high school and escape gang life, Feinstein wrote. State legislature funding programs like the Gang Risk Intervention Program will aid in eliminating dropouts who eventually turn to gang life, helping to break a terrible cycle.
Zamorano explained the third factor that increases gang violence.
“In my community, most people don’t like the police,” he said.
The Omaha Police Department has had difficulty convicting gang members and this sends a message that there may be no punishment for pulling the trigger of a gun when it’s pointed at a person.
At the scene of a crime, two policemen try to figure out what happened, but ten witnesses will not talk because they feel police have been unjust to them or their friends in the past. History has shown us how such grouping and generalizing can lead to disaster.
In the community of Modesto, Calif., this issue has been resolved through formation of a law enforcement task force (police, sheriffs, district attorneys and parole officers) that shares intelligence and provides constant vigilance in schools. Also, they designated community task forces to ensure that every elementary school has an after-school prevention program, creating better relationships between the law and the community. Modesto reduced murders from 24 in 2003-04 to six in 2005-06, according to Feinstein. Omaha must implement law and community task forces similar to Modesto’s in order to break this cycle of ignorance and violence.
For more information on Enough is Enough, you can visit their website at www.eienebraska.org.