Help for gang violence

They are almost always kids, as I reflect on the victims of gang-related violence here in Los Angeles. Somehow, that makes it even more poignant. Watch any local news program, and it seems that every night a reporter covers a story that is achingly familiar. Another kid – sometimes the intended target, often simply an innocent bystander – is gunned down. It's hard for any viewer not to feel hopeless.

A recent story in this newspaper ("Spike in gang murders prods L.A. toward action," Jan. 19) drew together some specifics on what's happening. It also pointed to some hopeful programs that potentially look like solutions. Yes, crime has been dropping here in Los Angeles for five years straight. But violent gang crime? That jumped 14 percent in 2006. There are now 40,000 gang members, spread between 720 gangs, who committed 269 murders last year. I look at that number and realize, sadly, that what I thought about the evening news is right – 269 murders. That's more than one for every weeknight newscast all year long.

The violence is mostly racial. It is Latino versus black. It's proved largely immune to a fortune's worth of antigang crime efforts. Law enforcement realizes it "cannot arrest [its] way out of the gang violence crisis." And perhaps with that realization comes the ray of hope.

Because, if throwing money at it won't work, and throwing everyone in jail won't work, more innovative, more healing responses are needed. One promising model tried in the summer of 2003 that caused a dramatic drop in violence included making tutoring and computer games available when gang violence is at its worst – from 8 p.m. to 3 a.m. I cannot imagine sitting down to begin a tutoring session at 2 a.m. But I'm enormously grateful to whoever is being so attentive that they're seeing creative solutions like that.

And I begin to feel perhaps that's where prayer comes in. Prayer that highlights the divine source of creative ideas, practical solutions. Prayer that bridges the racial divide and underscores the native goodness of all the young people at risk. A poetic description from the Bible of the peaceable kingdom comes to mind. "The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them" (Isa. 11:6). The companions that are matched up come from groups that would be considered mortal enemies.

And yet they're at peace.

What makes the difference? "The little child," which I understand to be the Christ. Christ is the message from God to humanity, the message that God, who is divine Mind, has an endless supply of creative problem-solving ideas. The message that God, who is the Father of us all, bridges any racial divide. Gradually, the two themes – creative answers, and bridges that reach from group to group – seem conjoined. They both come from the one Mind, the Father of us all.

The creative answers – whether tutoring through the night or more basketball courts open at all hours or more jobs for inner-city youth or more gang-intervention workers – ultimately come from the same Mind that also builds the bridge – the bridge that, finally, helps us all join hands.

Something that Mary Baker Eddy wrote in her primary work, "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," always seems to well up with fresh inspiration. "With one Father, even God, the whole family of man would be brethren; and with one Mind and that God, or good, the brotherhood of man would consist of Love and Truth, and have unity of Principle and spiritual power which constitute divine Science" (pp. 469-470).

It may still be hard not to sink toward hopelessness when hearing about yet another kid gunned down. But it will be more productive to think of "the little child," the Christ-message that provides those creative solutions that build bridges and transform mortal enemies into peaceable companions.

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