The real crime issue in the Excelsior

The city is still not investing enough in our communities of color
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OPINION There have been eight murders in the Excelsior in the past 120 days. And Sup. Gerardo Sandoval, who represents the area and is running for judge, has been the subject of press attacks for suggesting that gang injunctions in the Mission District may have driven crime into surrounding areas.

That debate misses the point.

Communities of color like the Excelsior have historically taken a back seat when it's time for the city to fund programs for youth, crime prevention, and economic development. Yet these are the public investments we must make if we are to craft a long-term solution to the city's crime problem.

To be fair, the city has started to invest in the Excelsior, and the Department of Children, Youth and Their Families has been supportive. But much work still remains — after all, the Excelsior has the most children and youth of any district in San Francisco. Working with Sandoval and other community leaders, the city remodeled the Excelsior branch library, and every park has a new children's playground, a new play field or new recreation center, or is scheduled for upgrades. DCYF has also provided significant anchor funding for violence prevention, employment training/placement, and youth leadership development programs at the Excelsior Teen Center.

But the city is still not investing enough in our communities of color. When a 14-year-old boy was murdered recently on Persia Street, we had to rely on DCYF staff and the Mission District's Community Response Network for assistance — partly because the city has not yet funded a similar network for the Excelsior. Had there been a similar emergency in the Mission, the MCRN would not have been able to provide vital services to that victim's family.

That doesn't mean an Excelsior CRN is the answer. But the demand for violence prevention and response programs is growing, leading successful organizations like the Mission YMCA and the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center's Excelsior Teen Center to have to struggle harder for an ever-shrinking amount of city funding. What is the advantage of rebuilding a library or recreation center if we reduce funding for the services and programs those facilities provide?

The Police Department's deployment of additional officers to the Excelsior in light of the recent surge in violent crime will help, as long as this strategy is coupled with an increase in funding for supportive services. Coordination between service providers and law enforcement — something we have modeled in Bernal Heights — has been successful in simultaneously reducing crime and reducing arrests. BHNC's Youth Programs and Safety Network Organizer look forward to working with the Excelsior Action Group, the District 11 Council, the Filipino Community Center, Coleman Advocates, PODER, Sup. Sandoval's office, and others to plan a town hall meeting at which the community will set priorities for short- and long-term action steps for residents, community-based services organizations, and city agencies so we can all work together toward an Excelsior that is a safe place for youth and families to live and thrive.

Joseph Smooke

Joseph Smooke is executive director of the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center.

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