When bullets flew in Oak Park for the second time in as many days last month, killing a 19-year-old man and wounding a young woman, dozens of alarmed residents took to the neighborhood’s streets to make their voices heard.
“We are out here with one agenda,” the Rev. Anthony Sadler told the marchers gathered at his Shiloh Baptist Church off Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, “(and that’s) to stop the gun violence.”
So far, it seems to have worked. The shootings have slowed. But marching is, at best, a short-term solution.
Another way to reduce violent crime is give the teenagers something better to do. Mayor Darrell Steinberg is pushing his fledgling Thousand Strong program as that alternative.
It’s a solid plan. The program connects high school students from some of Sacramento’s most impoverished neighborhoods with minimum wage jobs at local companies. As many as 700 teenagers will receive job training before being directed to an employer willing to put them to work.
Eventually, Steinberg wants the program to live up to its moniker and serve 1,000 teens year-round. Already, there’s enough funding from the state, city and local school districts to subsidize that.
The only problem? The city needs more companies to step up and hire students.
Some of the employers that have stepped up are Carollo Engineers, Valley Vision, the Starbucks at the Sacramento Convention Center, Green Tech, Service Systems Associates and the California Capital Airshow. Plus, a lot of government agencies, including the Sacramento Public Library, Sacramento Police Department and Regional Transit. But the pickings have been pretty slim.
Surely, Sacramento can do better.
While it’s true that hiring students from inner city neighborhoods might not be profitable in the short-term, in the long-term, it will make Sacramento a stronger community and, therefore, a better place to grow a business. The current spike in violent crime benefits no one.
Thousand Strong is deliberately going after teenagers who need help – those who are homeless, have a disability, have children, are pregnant or have a criminal record. Employers should consider the program an opportunity to be a responsible corporate citizen.
“It’s not a program, but a philosophy,” Steinberg said told a member of The Bee’s editorial board. “The goal is to connect economic growth to the (poorest) neighborhoods of the the city.”
It’s no coincidence that the neighborhoods with the highest rates of violent crime – Arden Arcade, Del Paso Heights and Valley Hi, to name a few – are also the neighborhoods that have seen little benefit from the boom downtown or in other, more affluent parts of Sacramento.
That drive-by shooting in Oak Park last month that killed 19-year-old Giovonni Griffin came on the heels of another shooting that injured a woman who was eight months pregnant. Surrounded by mourners at a memorial service, police found her bleeding from a wound to the stomach, but fortunately she and baby survived.
That kind of violence can’t continue to happen in Sacramento. But only a community-wide intervention, with a real path out of poverty and real opportunities for a viable career, can help stop it.
With more support from more employers, Thousand Strong is a good start.