GUEST OPINION: Praise for Santa Rosa's strategy on gang prevention

This is in response to a Press Democrat article ("Judging Santa Rosa's anti-gang efforts," Feb. 25) by Kevin McCallum.

Abraham Heschel, one of the 20th century's greatest theologians, states in his book "Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity" that "in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible."

When families disintegrate, schools fail to educate, jobs disappear, neighborhoods cease to support and crime and violence rise, we run to law enforcement to save us.

Thankfully, your city did what few jurisdictions have the political courage and wisdom to do: You did not launch a suppression — only response. You formed the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force, which spread the responsibility for kids in trouble and for kids, families and neighborhoods on the verge of trouble to all of Santa Rosa's key civic and institutional entities — police, schools, the faith community, business, nonprofits, youth groups and even parents, to name only a few.

You were tough on crime. You continued to arrest and prosecute. But you set your sights higher, aiming to stop the violent activity and to build a supportive community that would not produce crime.

As parents, we set limits and we nurture. These are not antithetical constructs. You did both.

Statistics show that a law enforcement-only response wins in the short run and fails in the long. Law enforcement-only is not hard; mobilizing a community is.

Look what you've done.

In 2002, Santa Rosa's annual Cinco de Mayo celebration turned into chaos: kids were running, shots were fired, and many were injured, all near the high school. Santa Rosa's youth and gang violence problem, which had been limited to "over there," now came into the heart of your city. For subsequent Cinco de Mayo celebrations, the city wanted more cops from neighboring jurisdictions.

"We wanted more troops, more firepower," reflected Mayor Ernesto Olivares in an interview. "But we were wrong. We learned that this was not a law enforcement issue alone. We had to bring in the whole community."

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