The kids spoke and the Fresno City Council reacted, promising to invest nearly $10 million dollars to support youth in the coming year.
A Wednesday night summit involved several dozen young people who spoke directly to leaders at the Fresno Fairgrounds. Councilmembers said the meeting helped peel back layers and break down barriers.
“It was the best community conversation I have been involved with,” said Mark Salazar, Fresno’s deputy chief of police.
Council member Luis Chavez said, “This was probably one of the most productive, really fruitful conversations that that I’ve had the honor of attending.”
“It’s pretty simple. We either give kids something to do, or the gangs will give them something to do.”–Fresno City Council President Miguel Arias
Summit Addressing Violence in Fresno
Over a dozen community organizations brought young people to the event for a conversation about the recent spike in violence in the city.
The meeting was held outdoors so everyone could space out. Chavez said reporters and camera crews were escorted out so participants could speak freely. Mayor-elect Jerry Dyer was in attendance as well.
“The conversations I heard were, you know, they’re running away from something,” said Chavez. He said he heard stories about trauma in the home, abusive relationships with parents, and problems with caretakers.
“They want those basic recreational, educational and economic opportunities,” explained Chavez. “A lot of them said, you know, I used to have a job, six, seven months ago, and now I don’t.” He said many participants said the were previously helping their parents or their foster parents but now bills are piling up.
“One of the phrases I heard last night was gang violence is really a language. It’s how oftentimes young people communicate where if you’ve had trauma and you’ve been damaged, you tend to go out and do that out in the streets,” says Chavez. “Right now, it’s sad to say, but a lot of these gang leaders are being really active in recruiting our kids.”
“The conversations I heard were, you know, they’re running away from something.”–City Council Member Luiz Chavez
As he looked at the crowd in attendance, he was able to identify several of the groups working to address neighborhood issues, including Street Saints, Fresno United, Barrios Unidos, and ‘Take A Stand Committee.
“I saw a lot of young people that were street smart, street savvy, know the neighborhoods in and out,” reveals Chavez. “They knew what goes on and actually wanted police to help them to get rid of those people that are causing havoc in the neighborhoods.”
“We developed some short term and long term goals,” said Chavez.
Some of the nearly $10 million dollars approved Thursday by the City Council will go to parks, and park maintenance almost immediately, Chavez said.
The pandemic limits what the city can currently provide as far as recreational opportunities, but that’s not stopping them from pushing forward, he said.
Chavez said the BMX bike park at the Mosqueda Center could be opened up soon. “We can do that because there’s really no person to person contact,” he said.
Chavez also said he’s having discussions about restoring a youth employment program. “We can actually employ a lot of these young folks to help out in the community and give back. And for me, that’s a win win situation, whether it’s in the form of them cleaning our parks or helping us beautify some of the alleyways, or our streets,” he said.
Fresno City Budget
“When we’re facing crises of kids continuing to kill each other, we really have to think long and hard.”– Councilmember Esmeralda Soria
When the council approved the city budget Thursday, councilmembers Arias and Esmeralda Soria spoke about the impact the voices of young people had on their vision for the city moving forward.
“It’s pretty simple. We either give kids something to do, or the gangs will give them something to do,” said Arias. “You can’t arrest your way out of this increase in crime. And we have got to stop executing the defund agenda of our youth in our city.”
“When we’re facing crises of kids continuing to kill each other, we really have to think long and hard,” said Soria. “What if those were really your kids or our kids? And these kids are our kids because they live in our neighborhoods and they live in our cities, so we have a responsibility.”
Take A Stand Committee Reaction
“This is now chance to beautify our community, host job training for our youth to be employable, create community jobs for our youth, plan safe social distancing activities…”–Kina McFadden, Take A Stand Committee board member
Kina McFadden, who helped organize an anti-violence rally at City Hall last week, said the money can be put to effective use.
“This is now chance to beautify our community, host job training for our youth to be employable, create community jobs for our youth, plan safe social distancing activities like boxing, tennis, performing arts, movies in the park, gardening, farming, fishing, camping, skiing, community engagement, volunteerism, peer to peer mentoring, Girls and Boys Scouts with youth workshops financial literacy, politics 101, etc.,”
Notes taken during Wednesday night’s summit will be used to create an action plan, Chavez said.
“Last night was essentially a framework of how to start the conversation. I said we’re gonna have a lot of uncomfortable conversations, but let’s get uncomfortable together because, you know, this is our city.”
Chavez said there are a small number of gang members behind most of the recent violence and he wants to send them a loud and clear message.
“Yes, the police department is going to address that (gangs) in the suppression aspect,” said Chavez. “But we’re also going to invest in our young people on the intervention and prevention side and really remove that dynamic and those conditions that make them prime for these gangs.”