By Gary Yates
With the escalating casualty rate of American military personnel dominating newspaper headlines, it may be tempting to ignore the problems facing American civilians at home. But consider the statistics: While more than 830 Americans have lost their lives since the war in Iraq began in March 2003, nearly 2,600 youth were victims of gun violence in California between 2000 and 2002, according to the latest available statistics from the California Department of Health Services.
Even more alarming to the Latino community, more than 1,200 Latino youth were victims of gun violence in California between 2000 and 2002.
The life-or-death situation that many of California’s youth face on a daily basis can be compared to the grim realities confronted by our young soldiers stationed overseas. This statement is not meant to diminish the tragic loss of life in our armed forces. But we must use every means in our power to stop the senseless loss of young lives in our communities. At the top of the list is continued state support for violence prevention programs and policies.
During the past decade, the state of California passed some of the toughest gun control laws in the country and dramatically increased spending for violence prevention and youth safety programs-including after-school opportunities and job training. These efforts have paid off. The number of young people killed by gun violence in California decreased by 48 percent from 1991 to 2001, according to statistics from the California Department of Health Services.
These efforts have paid off. The number of Latino youth killed by gun violence in California decreased by 43 percent from 1991 to 2001, according to statistics from the California Department of Health Services.
But now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Gun violence remains the second leading cause of death for youth. In addition, more than 6,000 young people, on average, are hospitalized each year in California for some form of violent injury.
On June 3, 2004, more than 1,500 community leaders from Redding to San Diego participated in a statewide violence prevention video conference sponsored by The California Wellness Foundation. Broadcast live from Sacramento and Los Angeles, and down linked to nine locations throughout the state, the event was attended by lawmakers, law enforcement officials, health professionals, educators and youth advocates. Participants shared success stories and discussed how best to continue their efforts on local and statewide levels.
The consensus was that violence against youth has become a public health epidemic. To adequately address violence against youth, the role of law enforcement must be joined by a comprehensive public health focus on the environmental factors that contribute to violencefrom a lack of after-school activities to substance abuse. While grassroots organizations have established effective community programs, translating these local successes into effective statewide policy requires strong support by advocates and policymakers.
Despite the chronic state budget crisis, a recent poll funded by The California Wellness Foundation found that registered voters of all political persuasions throughout California strongly believe violence prevention and safety programs should have a high funding priority. We are immensely heartened that Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has committed to retaining the funding for these programs in his May budget revision.
Those of us who have witnessed first-hand the lives saved by violence prevention programsand the millions of dollars saved in hospital care and p olice and fire responsemust do all we can to insure that these programs continue to reduce the gun violence toll on our youth.
Just as violence has many causes, there is no single means of preventing it. But by moving prevention to the top of the policy agenda, we can make a solid investment in the precious lives of our youth and the health and safety of their communities.
Gary L. Yates is the president and chief executive officer of The California Wellness Foundation, which has funded violence prevention programs since 1992.