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."
At your 2011 Cinco de Mayo celebration, the city deployed only a few officers on overtime to assist with the celebration. And no significant events were reported. Your task force set criminal justice goals — "reduce violent offenses" — and quality-of-life goals, such as "Improve high school graduation rates."
To the envy of your sister cities in California, Santa Rosa passed Measure O, giving you local resources to address this problem.
Yours is not just a program but a strategy, an approach that, at root, asks your city to change how it does business. As your 2008-2012 strategic work plan states, the Mayor's Gang Prevention Task Force "reinforces the concept that collaborative efforts, spanning a broad spectrum of community partners, ensure that a large number of stakeholders accept responsibility and accountability for the safety, health and welfare of its youth, families and communities."
You are sharing information, tracking the work, witnessing a tight cooperation between police and schools, involving county services such as probation and public health, deploying street workers to work tough neighborhoods, training parents about spotting gang signs and so much more.
You have every right to probe the numbers. But watch that your questions aren't too narrow.
Look at the commitments made by so many in your city and country, and the changes you have witnessed.