‘We’re trying to prevent a mother from losing their child’: Gang interventionist on spike in gun violence

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Young activists rally to end gun violence in LA. Homicides in the City of Los Angeles are up 25% from last year, according to LA Police Department Chief Michel Moore. Photo by Hayk_Shalunts/Shutterstock.

Homicides in the City of Los Angeles are up 25% from last year, according to LA Police Department Chief Michel Moore. The city has had 162 homicides from January 1 to June 22, compared to 129 homicides during the same period in 2020. Some are worried that the trend could worsen as we head into summer — research shows that violence jumps during warmer weather.

The increase in homicides is due to a combination of things, says Fernando Rejón, executive director of the Urban Peace Institute (UPI). “Particularly over 2020 with the pandemic, we had folks that were locked up [at home] and tensions were really high. We lost a lot of people, particularly in the African American and Latino communities.”

The UPI trains and leads community members, like gang intervention workers and law enforcement, to head off violence before it erupts. 

Rejón adds that the past year led to a convergence of many key issues, including a national reckoning with law enforcement and systemic racism. That coupled with the large loss of life, mental health issues, and isolation of the pandemic led to more anxieties, tension, and ultimately, violence. 

Tina Padilla is one of the many gang intervention workers with the UPI. She’s on the frontlines addressing gun violence as the Northeast program director for the City of Los Angeles Mayor’s Office of Gang Reduction and Youth Development (GRYD).

Padilla says that the community she works in — which includes Lincoln Heights, Highland Park, and Echo Park — has seen an uptick in gun violence. “Last year, we were in the double digits of gang-related shootings or gang-related activities, crime and so forth. But this year, it seems like we are headed towards triple digit numbers. It’s very disruptive and disheartening to the work that we’re doing.”

Padilla says that she and a group of seven other outreach workers help transition young people from being in a gang by helping them get opportunities like schooling and professional careers. 

“We are out there trying to promote peace, trying to do rumor control, trying to stop the violence, trying to prevent a mother from losing their child. It’s hard work but we’re out there doing it everyday,” she says.

Credits

Guests:

  • Fernando Rejón - Executive director, Urban Peace Institute
  • Tina Padilla - Northeast program director, GRYD (Gang Reduction and Youth Development)