I. smiley G. Calderon
With the recent wildfires blazing around and a pandemic raging within Fresno, you would think that the sanctity of life would be forefront in every Fresnan’s mind. But, unfortunately, that’s just not the case. At least, with our recent waves of street violence, gun battles and knife fights, it’s more likely that bitterness, rage and revenge permeate the air. It didn’t seem possible to make these perilous 2020 times even more pernicious—but, congrats, Fresno, we did it.
Every other day, we hear of a senseless killing by some random street shooter in our town. It’s frightening. And it’s frustrating.
Fresno Police Department (FPD) Sergeant Jeff La Blue says, “In the neighborhoods where we have this violence, it’s unacceptable to have somebody who is shot and killed or even shot and injured and have several witnesses, and nobody wants to come forward and speak to the police.”
People just don’t trust each other and certainly not the police, especially in today’s era of seemingly sanctioned police brutality and excessive force against people of color.
This recent wave of street violence is an urgent crisis for our community. And local community leaders showed their resolve against this pestilence when they took to the streets themselves with a resolute message: “Stop the Violence.” The Fresno Economic Opportunities Commission (EOC) Street Saints led a local march against violence that brought together more than 100 community members and local leaders, including FPD officers, in a town hall meeting.
Joby Jones, a Fresno Street Saints project manager and director, had this to say: “There has been a lot of shootings, not just west Fresno but in the city of Fresno. We just want to make sure we address our community, see who is willing to step up into a leadership role and begin to address some of these issues, and just come to a common understanding and bring some unity back.”
Jones, himself a previous gang member whose own brother was murdered, knows firsthand how important it is to reach out to the local community for change. Fostering and nurturing unity is a crucial step in addressing the cause of violence in our neighborhoods.
Yet some believe that pent-up social angst related to the coronavirus pandemic is to blame. FPD Deputy Chief Mark Salazar focused on how citywide closures have affected our youth. “What are they doing?” he rhetorically questioned. “They’re in the streets, that is what is happening.”
It’s true, with fewer economic options to keep teenagers and young adults occupied, the coronavirus has been the scapegoat for social unrest. But poor economic opportunity and stability have always been a root cause of violence in our communities. The coronavirus has only put a spotlight on it. It’s tragic. Instead of being a part of something positive in our city during these difficult times, these disenfranchised youths choose a life of revenge and violence.
And there are no excuses.
Only weeping mothers and widows. And fatherless children. Grieving parents.
These local stories of violence are heart-wrenching. It’s sad to see stupid street bravado turn deadly. And these horrible drive-by shootings that rob passersby of their precious lives are so deplorable and cowardly.
These criminals treat their neighbors like disposable targets in a video game as they “hunt” for their next prey in our streets. They have become desensitized and numb to the pain and grief they purposefully inflict upon their poor victims.
But not all poor people turn to crime or violence when times are tough. As this perilous pandemic has clearly brought out the worst in many, it has also taught us to appreciate one another more and to care for one another in a deeper sense. It has reminded us that tomorrow is not promised, so today we must love a little harder and live a little fuller now more than ever.
And we have it in us to do that. We really do.
As Jones says, “There is a need to make sure our community is accessible to make our community thrive—make sure our kids be a part of something special and be a part of something different…They’re looking for direction and guidance.”
And we can’t let them down. We have to show our youth that brotherly love and uprightness are still the real building blocks to a strong community despite what the local “street homey” might tell them.
Avoiding violence and choosing peace in the streets will help everyone. Our young people need to learn this from us in our day-to-day example. Hearing these truths from us is not enough; they also need to see them in us.
We need to promote love, kindness and respect within our family spheres if we want this positivity to spill out into the community where it belongs.
May we rise to the occasion and provide the saving light of life and wisdom that our youth so desperately need today in the line of Fresno fire.
I smiley G. Calderon is a Gen X Chicano and lifelong educator who spent a career in academia in Southern California but is most proud of being a father.