Responding to a community alert about escalating gang violence issued by the Santa Monica Police Department, the Pico Youth & Family Center and Pico Neighborhood Association will hold a community forum to “identify proactive solutions based on the principles of prevention,” in the words of a Youth Center spokesperson.
The forum, “Preventing Youth Violence and Drug Abuse: Building a Safer Community One Youth at a Time,” is scheduled for Saturday, December 17, in the John Adams Middle School Cafeteria from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
“Clearly this is a problem that is rooted in poverty, segregation and the marginalization of low-income communities,” said Johnny Ramirez, Program Manager at the PYFC.
Since 1989, 32 young people have been shot and killed in the Pico Neighborhood.
Noting that efforts have been made to address the problems, leaders in the Pico Neighborhood “want to see a paradigm shift.”
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of punishment. Instead of building more prisons, we need to invest in our youth and provide culturally relevant programs. We need to look at the problem of youth violence as a product of various social and economic factors that breed hopelessness and self-destruction in our youth,” said Oscar de la Torre, Executive Director of the Pico Youth & Family Center.
“We are building on the issues raised during the gang violence awareness workshops that were organized by the City of Santa Monica and Senator Sheila Kuehl last April. The difference this time is that we are focusing on tangible solutions for the Pico Neighborhood and the youth and families that reside here,” Maria Loya, Co-chair of the PNA, said.
“We invite youth and parents to attend this forum to learn from those who lived through the struggle and pain of gang violence and drug addiction first hand,” Steven Luciano, who will participate in the forum panel discussion, said.Now a community mentor, he and the other panelists are all former gang members or drug addicts who have made positive changes in their lives.