Results from the violence survey
Readers respond to essays about gang violence

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Last fall L.A. Youth decided to bring attention to the persistent problem of violence in the community. We asked our readers to share their thoughts and experiences through a survey and our essay contest. The more than 1,000 responses we received to our survey showed us that many teenagers are concerned about violence at school and in their neighborhoods. Nearly two-thirds of survey respondents said they see or experience violence at least once a month. Nearly a quarter of respondents said they do not feel safe at school. (Click here for survey results.)

Our essay contest asked readers how violence affects them. We published the winning essays in our November-December 2008 issue. Because of the large response to the survey and essay contest, we decided to bring together five L.A. Youth staff writers and a juvenile court judge to examine this issue in more depth. At the roundtable discussion, they talked about their experiences with violence and what can be done to make teens feel safer. Excerpts from the discussion are printed here.

Britawnya Craft, 17, Warren HS (Downey): There’s been several times where a lot of our fights at school happen racially, racial motivated. They may start out as one thing but everybody comes together and they just go at it. … What they ended up having to do is get more police officers to come. It was featured on the news several times and it just went on for like a whole week.

Judge Cynthia Loo: What did you do to protect yourself?

Britawnya: Most of the time I spent after school in a teacher’s class while most of this was going on or I’d try to go the back way home so I wouldn’t get caught up in anything.

Solange Rubio, 17, Leuzinger HS (Lawndale):
When I was in 10th grade, when it was first lunch, I wasn’t at lunch but it [a fight] all started. I understand that it was racial and then later on that day it extended to outside the school. That same day at school there were helicopters and it really made it seem more than what it was and it scared me more than it should have I think because yeah it was scary.

Judge Loo: Do you think the school dealt with it well?

Solange: They did suspend and expel those who were involved. They have tried to kick out more of the gang members or anyone who shows that they are gang related.

Judge Loo:
Did it affect your studies at all?

Solange: Yeah, when you hear like loud noises, everybody comes out of the room and the lessons are disrupted. Kids are running out of the room because they see their friends fighting.

Juan Valdovinos, 17, Fremont HS:
Around that area there are like the Crips and the Bloods and the Florence so there’s always violence no matter what time of day. Just yesterday there was a fight about to break out in the morning as soon as I was walking to school. It gets tiring after a while. It has to stop. I mean I want to go on and get out of here and move on with my life and this violence and gangs it’s not letting me do what I want, it gets in my way.

Loo: How did you deal with that violence on a daily basis?

Juan: Well I would try to stay in class, during my lunch especially because that’s when it began. And I would stay in class and not try to be part of that at all because I’m like really anti-violence so I don’t like that at all. …
    Once I was walking to school and they came up to me and wanted to steal my mp3 and my cell phone. My friend came running behind and he stopped them. Since then I started getting a ride and at night I don’t go home until 8. I stay at school all day until my mom picks me up from school.

Judge Loo:
Wow, so your school has after-school programs so you can stay there?

Juan: Yeah.

Raymond Carrillo, 18, Polytechnic HS in Sun Valley (2008 graduate):
My brother was, I won’t mention any gangs, the names of them, but he was also in a gang. I was always around them because most of my friends were in gangs. I always wanted to, in a sense, fit in. … I knew the consequences, which is why I never crossed the line [and joined a gang] but I was always in the middle. I knew the consequences of my brother went to jail, I’ve seen the stories of many people of my their friends die, how their homies die, how their family member die. I believe that one of the reasons that a lot of teenagers want to get in those things is acceptance. People want to be accepted and they’re willing to risk all those things just for acceptance.

Judge Loo:
Why don’t we talk now about some suggestions that you all have.

Esteban Garcia, 16, Warren HS:
High school unfortunately many times is too late, you know, to prevent this. Character building starts at home but once we’re in school we have to have that support from teachers, we have to have that support from our school.

My mother used to live in Hawaiian Gardens. Racial tensions were very high. The neighborhood was about 90 percent Hispanic and I know that while we were there we were the only African American people in the area. During the time we had several incidents where we were confronted, where we had guns pulled on us, where we were given death threats, like if you don’t get out. One time my brother was confronted and they told him they were going to kill him if he didn’t leave and its kinda like, you know, what do you say to that? And the only thing we could do was go to the police and the police told us there’s nothing we can do, the best thing for you to do is to get out.

Judge Loo:
Do you think that this is widespread feeling, that the police aren’t responsive?

Britawnya: The police aren’t doing enough. I’ve had guns pulled on me walking outside and they’re a hundred feet away from me. It’s like the police aren’t doing enough to stop the violence and it’s happening more in the poor neighborhood and nobody’s saying anything and the kids become a part of that.

Solange: I think more understanding from the teachers, because at my school a lot of students feel like some of the teachers don’t get what they’re going through and they just think that everything is OK so why aren’t you getting the good grades. The teachers that do put more understanding and try to speak to students, they really end up helping a lot of people that I’ve known change and it was because of them, because the teachers took the time to understand and not just pick on them like you know, why aren’t you doing this why aren’t you doing that, get out of my class, you’re acting up.

Raymond: Any organization or any type of group or program that would bring forth love. Because the truth is that what changed my life was not people giving me an attitude, was not people disrespecting me or anything like that but the people that really changed my life were those people that loved me even though I disrespected them.

Juan: There’s not programs outside of school. Usually they don’t go home after school, they’re just out in the streets and they need somewhere to go because sometimes they just don’t like their home because there’s violence at home too and they want to escape from that.

Britawnya: At my school there’s over 4,000 kids and you’re pretty much on your own. There’s no one you could talk to. If they see violence they don’t talk about it. They act as if it doesn’t happen or sometimes they’ll just simply threaten us, saying that they’re gonna split our lunches or we’re gonna take away your snack, which they’ve already done and it’s kinda like what more do we have left? You’re gonna stop feeding us?

Audience member: What are the things that give you hope?

Britawnya: Having an understanding of the outside—what’s outside of our city, what’s outside of L.A., what’s outside of the gang. It gives me hope that this isn’t going to go on forever. You can go to another place and it’s not going to be as bad as this.

Esteban: Education is personally what I love but for a lot of people unfortunately it isn’t. But I think that through that and writing and art, bringing that out in them really can inspire them to understand that we’re together.

Solange: I know that I want to break the stereotype of where I come from. I’m always put down by others who know where I come from, Leuzinger, and they’re like you’re not smart enough, because you go to that school you’re not going to go to college and you’re not going to do anything. I have this motivation to just prove them wrong.
    And also in school we started this peer college counseling. It’s student to student and I think that really has helped because a counselor can only spend a few minutes with you in a really big school like hers and mine, [which] has almost 3,000. We’ve been taught to open up to them because there are issues that they are facing that are getting in the way of their schooling. It’s really made me feel good that I’m being a part of change and that the future is going to get better because of thing like this.

Juan: If we go out and be successful and come back and give back to the community that would make a really big difference, to see that there is hope, that if we can do it they can do it. Why be surrounded by all these people that are just bringing you down when you could do so much better?

Click here to see the results of our survey about violence in the community and schools.

Click here to read how readers reacted to our essay contest about the effects of violence.