What Can We Do About Youth Violence?

The stabbing death of Anthony Santa Cruz, a teenage student, occurred on North 21st Street in February,  a half-dozen blocks from my home. Of course, the tragedy shook Anthony‘s family and friends profoundly, but difficult emotions rippled throughout our community—parents, teachers, and neighbors.

At a recent session of my community office hours at the East Carnegie Library, Northside community leader Erik Thacker raised an important question to me and roughly two dozen neighbors gathered there.  “What can we do?,” Erik asked. Emphasizing that hundreds of kids are lost to street crime and gangs every year in San Jose, Erik sought to find out how he could participate in a solution that would divert kids from the “default” to a life of education, opportunity and achievement.

I watched various neighbors think about Erik’s question, and people started to jump in. Many accurately observed that our severely understaffed police department needs resources, an issue about which we’re all keenly aware—I’ve recently proposed a stop-gap measure to attempt to address the declining numbers of officers in our ranks. But people roundly acknowledge that placing an officer on every street corner can’t stop youth violence where kids simply don’t have positive alternatives.

Predictably, I gave a familiar “pitch” – encouraging anyone willing to give an hour of their time each week to tutor a child to join our “1,000 Hearts for 1,000 Minds” effort to participate with any of our great non-profit partners, like Boys and Girls Club, Reading Partners, and Third Street Community Center.  Why tutoring, I was asked?  Ample studies show that one-on-one tutoring can have the most direct impact on a child’s ability to learn, stay in school, and achieve, and plenty of kids need a positive adult role model. 

Then Paul Murphy, a parent and advocate for youth sports and education, spoke up. He invited us to see what Bill Kleidon and his son, George Kleidon, had done to form a free youth sports league in Northside. Recognizing that many of our families can’t afford to participate in a sports league, and watching the elimination of City-sponsored leagues from budget cuts, Bill and George took action. They hosted fundraising events, gathered several fellow San Jose High alums to volunteer as coaches and refs, and started a flag football league at Watson Park in the fall of 2012 with 120 kids. They’ve now moved on to basketball season, and another 180 kids are enjoying a free opportunity to learn the sport, build friendships, improve their health and find an positive outlet for their energy. 

A couple of Saturdays later, I dropped by Watson Park, so that I could see for myself. The sight was impressive:  Bill and George had the often-quiet park full of kids and parents, many of whom participate as coaches and refs. Girls and boys play together—a very compelling approach to sports, particularly with younger kids. For many parents, it presented a rare the opportunity to meet other parents from their child’s school, to talk about their families and their neighborhoods—a great   recipe for community-building.

What can we do?  As Scott Knies says, “if you see something growing that you like, water it.”  We can help support Bill and George’s effort by volunteering your time with the kids, or by helping financially to buy equipment and t-shirts.  If you’re willing to help in any way, reach out to Bill Kleidon at [email protected]; contributions will be funneled through the San Jose High Alumni Association (Tax ID #20-8458652).

What else can we do?  There are many great organizations working to positive pathways for our kids – Project Cornerstone, the Silicon Valley Education Foundation,  CCPY, to name a few.  We can crowd-source a solution to youth violence in our communities— but it will take all hands on deck, and yours will be a valuable addition.


  1. Your stop gap measure you supposedly came up with is a joke and officers will continue to leave.  What you have done to the PD is an embarrassment not only to SJ but to the country

    Officers will continue to leave and others will retire and SJ will never reach staffing levels will not be reach for years.  Thanks for another homicide this morning.

  2. Sam,,,how truly disingenuous depths you can reach. You, along with most of this city council and mayor, have chased off over 400 veteran police officers over 3 short years to other police departments with your cavalier attitudes and illegal actions. No matter what spin you want to put on this to deflect blame, your actions have forced the wholesale dismantling of units at the police department that proactively and very effectively went after violent gang members. While you may trumpet the new academy of officers, that fact is that this department will only be a training ground for other departments to hire away our officers, as San Jose has one of the worst compensation packages for police officer in the state, thanks to the inept management of this city council and mayor. You want to really change the gang problem? Treat the officers with the dignity and respect they deserve, quit stealing money from them and their families and honor your contracts, just as they have done for this city. Maybe then you will be able to stop the mass exodus of experienced police officers and make a dent in the gang problem once again.

  3. > But people roundly acknowledge that placing an officer on every street corner can’t stop youth violence where kids simply don’t have positive alternatives.

    People are smart.

    The government/academician/social work class is dumb.

    Unfortunately, there are enough of them in enough positions of power with enough crackpot theories, that youth violence, bad education, unemployment, poverty, eugenics, and family decay are here to stay.

    Wipe out the Department of Mal-Education, HHS, the EPA, the Department of No Energy, the Department of Labor Strangulation, the Department of Commerce Suppression, Obamacare, and their counterparts in Sacramento and you might begin to see some progress in restoring families, creating economic prosperity and opportunity, fostering a spirit of optimism, and reducing “youth violence”.

    The nihilists are in charge, and they want to “save the planet” by reducing the population.  And population reduction requires misery, suffering, and wrecking the economic “ecosystem”.

  4. That house on N. 21 St. has been nothing but problems for that neighborhood for the last twenty years. Drug dealing, gang problems, intimidating neighbors, assaults. I’m sorry that someone died, but you should check your facts before you start misrepresenting them.

    Now that you have come out and stated that you can not pay your mortgage on your councilman salary and need the slush fund for you and fiancée to see each other and go wine tasting.

    Can you imagine paying another 20% of your salary into your pension, THAT YOU PAY NOTHING TOO. You would be living on like $50K a year. How are you going to pay for insurance, property taxes, water, PG&E, food for your kids, that’s right you don’t have kids.

    And guess what, measure B does not touch the mayor and councilperson, very nice set up for you to avoid paying another 16%.

    The big lie is almost over and your house of cards will be crashing down soon.

  5. So….the Fire and Police Departments have no youth programs for educating and training young men and women for great jobs, and respect from the City Leaders? Yes….yes they do.  Just the great job part.  Look into it.

  6. “But people roundly acknowledge that placing an officer on every street corner can’t stop youth violence where kids simply don’t have positive alternatives.”

    No corner of this city is beyond the reach of the positive influences available at schools (teachers, volunteers, coaches), at the supermarket (reliable workers), in our neighborhoods (helpful, responsible neighbors), in library books, through the internet, and on television.

    Young people chose gang life not for lack of choice but lack of character. Enough with the stale, five decades old sociology.

  7. what we can do for the youth in San Jose is to get rid of all the Corrupt Politicians . Sam , You and the rest of your Elitist cohorts are so out of touch its not funny. Most people here in San Jose are not born with a silver spoon in their mouth , like yourself. Want to make a difference , try Volunteering on the eastside sometime . try talking to the people who are struggling just to make ends meet . You think these people care about “plastic bag Bans” or “styrofoam bans” , they cold care less . They just want to feel safe .

    • > Want to make a difference , try Volunteering on the eastside sometime . try talking to the people who are struggling just to make ends meet .


      There are struggling people on the eastside?

      Last I heard, Solyndra was hiring and the nice man on the TV said there were “green shoots” and we were in “recovery summer”.

      Or maybe it was last summer that was recovery summer.  I forget.  We seem to have had so many of them.

  8. And the police exodus continues….900 cops for 900 other cities……you have my vote for Mayor, keep up the great work