Schools are in sessions, the last days of summer are finally upon San Jose, and all is seemingly quiet after what was one of the most heated few months that the city has known for some time. It seems that the gang violence this summer touched far too many people. This writer recalls driving his cousin to our grandmother’s house in East San Jose only to find the road there barricaded by nearly a dozen police cruisers with officers brandishing weapons in nervous anticipation of confrontation.
Residents of San Jose were afraid and many still have a genuine and rightful fear that the lull in violence is only a calm in the storm. When people are afraid, there is a natural inclination to blame—to find someone as the cause of the problem and harangue until that unlikely person or group is cast out or the problem is solved. But, gang violence is not a problem—it is a condition. Moreover, there is no one person to blame for the recent increase in violence. People will blame the Mayor for cutting funding for gang prevention. Yet, if the Mayor and City Council are to blame, then shouldn’t the state that cuts funding for education also hold some responsibility, the federal government that has never truly had an effective or coherent drug policy, or the people of San Jose who really only focused in on this matter after the violence escalated?
Blame is a powerful emotion, but it is not what San Jose needs right now. We need compassion—compassion for the victims and the families of those touched by this summer’s violence. And then we need to turn that compassion and earnest desire to never see this occur again into a zealous passion for action—action that helps us understand the conditions of gang violence in our society and ways we can work together to renew our collective vision for tomorrow for the long haul.
I am but a teacher, but as a teacher who sees things from 10 feet versus my prior public service where I saw things from 10,000 feet, I can refocus perhaps an obvious but still unspoken fact about this recent rash of violence. Most of the conflict occurred in areas with underserved schools and in minority communities. Take a look at the following two images:
Now, the first image is of Academic Performance Index (API) scores of schools in San Jose. These scores tell how well the students perform on a number of assessments. Green is good, the closer to red on the color scheme means that scores are correspondingly lower. East San Jose is particularly hit hard in terms of lower API scores than neighboring schools in Evergreen and West San Jose.
Now look where those lower API scores are and take a look at the second image: a plotting of homicides and assaults with a deadly weapon in San Jose over the past six months. There is an eerily disturbing pattern that emerges, however, one that should not be a shock.
While education will not address all the facets of the condition of gang violence, it does serve as a focal point that ties so many elements together. Education is the primary government service that students are exposed to in this stage of life. Schools weave the basic social fabric of communities together, bringing parents, teachers, and others to the same table. And a good education will prepare students to be responsible and active members of the community. In light of potentially staggering education cuts in the not-so-far-off horizon, leaders, educators, and community members in San Jose need to reexamine our own structures and figure out how to maximize the resources and assets we currently have.
Take another look at the two maps. Have no doubt that the day those students who attend the red and orange rated schools receive the same level of service as those who attend the green, things will change. It’s going to be a long process, but one day it will happen.
If interested in taking action, please consider stopping by the MACSA (Mexican-American Community Service Agency) Youth Center this Wednesday, Sept. 19 at 6pm for an event designed to be the “next step” in response to this recent violence. Community members, school leaders and officials from the City of San Jose will be in attendance. 660 Sinclair Drive – San Jose, CA 95116.
Jonathan M. Padilla is a recent Harvard graduate, who has worked at the White House, in local, state, and national political campaigns, and in organizing the greater Hispanic community. He is currently working as a Teach for America corps member in San Jose.