Salinas (Once Again) Gets Serious (Sort of) About Ending Gang Violence

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Teens at an East Salinas after-school program prepare for lucrative careers in the fast growing field of sarcastic blog writing

It’s déjà vu all over again. Another wrenchingly tragic week on the streets of Salinas and another parade of city officials and Very Important Persons expressing outrage and vowing that a new combination of police crackdowns and youth outreach will surely set the city on the true path toward ending gang violence. Seems like we’ve been watching this scene play over and over again with only minor variations for something like 20 years now.

Yet, the reason the gang problem exists in the first place remains, as ever, the elephant in the room that no one will mention, the political third rail that no one will touch. We’re talking, of course, about poverty. Where large numbers of kids are growing up in poverty, there are gang problems. Where they aren’t, there aren’t. It’s not like that’s a secret or anything.

The trouble is this. If we acknowledge that poverty is at the root of the problem, we might then have to ask whether it’s really necessary for our largest industries to pay poverty wages to the vast majority of their workers – who just happen to be these children’s parents. We might start taking a harder look at how much these poverty wages really cost our communities and impact our lives. We might even start thinking about living wage ordinances. And that’s the real problem. Too many of the Very Important Persons wouldn’t stand for that.

Here at Xasáuan Today, we spend a good deal of time in East Salinas and we’re happy to report that, contrary to the common belief (widespread among people who get their information from the TV news) that it’s a virtual war zone where one cannot safely walk the street, East Salinas is actually one of the friendliest, most neighborly communities in Monterey County. Not that this should be a surprise. If you’ve ever hitchhiked or needed help in a strange city, you well know that generosity tends to be inversely proportional to wealth.

East Salinas is just a place where kids, for all the love and attention they receive from their families – and they receive at least as much as kids anywhere else – are trapped in poverty (virtually all adults in East Salinas work, yet many families earn less than $15,000 per year). Programs that might help these kids prepare for, or go to, college or trade school are woefully underfunded and often lack the cultural competence to be effective (and kids whose immigration papers aren’t in order generally aren’t eligible for any kind of work/study or college aid programs anyway).

While the legitimate economy has next to nothing to offer these kids, the gangs offer them exciting work, a team atmosphere, respect and real opportunities for advancement. That’s pretty much all there is to it.

Want our prescription for ending gang violence? Start paying everyone a living wage and give all kids, regardless of family income, race, neighborhood, or immigration status, real opportunities to pursue their dreams.

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One Response to Salinas (Once Again) Gets Serious (Sort of) About Ending Gang Violence

  1. Kira Corser says:

    Your writing, connecting the Salinas gangs to poverty and low wages was right on.

    I also spend a lot of time in East Salinas planning afterschool art classes and community art classes with teachers and kids who really want a better life, and one they often say “a life without violence.” We use art to help connect community, build respect, advance the creative industries, and communicate feelings. Thanks for such great writing. You always did have that great talent and I’m glad you are doing it.

    Kira

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