And the finger pointing begins: it was the police's fault for not having enough presence at the football game; it was the city council's fault for not budgeting enough police; it was the school district's fault for not sending security outside the school perimeter; it was the city's fault for not having enough programs that would have involved the shooter and turned him away from crime; it was....actually all of our faults. Both for this shooting and the many other shootings that have happened in Long Beach.
My blackberry goes off 1 to 3 times a week with notifications that someone has been shot in Long Beach or has showed up in a Long Beach Emergency Room with a gun shot wound. And yet, none of us, including me, has stood up and said "enough" and really meant it.
I made a move in that direction about 10 years ago when I had the honor of being on one of three Community Action Teams in the United States -- ours being Long Beach and Compton based -- organized by the Jimmy Carter Center to mobilize the community against youth firearm violence. The premise of the program was simple: The central driving conclusion of our gathering was the conviction that not one gun death of a child can be acceptable. Not even one.
As Marian Wright Edelman, president and founder of the Children's Defense Fund, pointed out, this country is losing the equivalent of a classroom of children every day because youth are being killed by firearms.
Under the project, named "Not Even One," Community Action Teams (CATs) were formed at demonstration sites in three states (California, New Mexico, and Georgia). CATs included local community members, parents, clergy, and representatives from law enforcement, education, and public health agencies. CATs were to:
* Collect public health data on fatal firearm injuries on youths.
* Collect data sufficiently detailed to prepare written portraits "putting a face" on the victims.
* Use the data to develop viable, effective interventions at the community level and, eventually, nationally.
A child's death by a firearm would automatically call for, not just a criminal investigation, but a public health investigation that would determine all of the things that went wrong and produce recommendations for corrective actions to be taken by every responsible individual, group, agency, and public organization to be sure it didn't happen again.
Such a sentinel system would inevitably become the basis for a research agenda so that the tragic deaths would at least bear a fruit of understanding. The sentinel events could put faces on statistics and channel emotions toward prevention, not just after-the-fact punishment. Firmly grounded research also has the power gradually to force public policy to implement the creative, compassionate common sense programs that are needed.
We met after the killing of a child and tried to put the pieces together of what led that person to kill that child and who in the community might have been able to prevent that killing. This concept is much like what is done in medical centers. A committee is formed to review the death of a patient to determine what led to the death and what might be done in the future to prevent similar deaths. No finger pointing. Just working together to prevent it from happening again.
The national Not Even One program was closed because of difficultly of getting data. But the concept remains sound.
Our community needs to examine the root causes of these killings. Our community needs to stand up and say "enough" -- "Not even one death is acceptable." And we need to mean it -- and not only just when the killing happens near our neighborhood.