When I joined the San Diego Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention in 2012, my goal was to help build a bona fide commission that could affect real change. I envisioned a change in attitudes in how we reach out to help gang members, a change in unfair gang policies and helping change hearts in order to bring real resources to communities facing serious challenges. That hasn’t happened. Instead, what I’ve encountered on the commission is bureaucracy, cronyism, wasteful spending and suppression of free speech.
Let me begin by addressing my colleagues on the commission. I thank each of you for a unanimous vote to advise the City Council and mayor to fully support and fund the Summer Night Lights program that a group of former gang members in high-crime communities put together to prevent and intervene in gang violence during the summer nights. This program would have brought jobs to our youth at 10 parks highly affected by gang crime and violence, and would have had programs and activities for the whole family during the most violent months and hours in the summer. The Summer Night Lights program didn’t come to fruition last summer because of the bureaucracy within City Hall and the mayor’s office.
The mayor’s office told us to wait until 2017. Now it is telling us it doesn’t have any funding and we should reach out to the economic development department – more red tape.
The city doesn’t have funding to help our youth, yet it found $245,000 to put up so-called ShotSpotters in these same communities. These are devices that detect gunshots and collect data from an area when they’re fired. They’ve been shown ineffective in preventing crime and are a waste of taxpayer dollars.
It’s not just outside forces ensuring the commission doesn’t accomplish anything. Sometimes the commission itself has been counterproductive in its mission to better the community.
When Rev. Rickey Laster was appointed executive director of the commission, I asked him to come out and walk with us when we do our walk-and-knocks with San Diego Police in high-crime neighborhoods, He’s been a no-show.
Laster, Dr. Rodney Hood, the chairman of the commission, and others have tried to suppress free speech by limiting what can be said or done by community members during commission meetings. At one recent meeting, Hood called a sign held up by a community member during the meeting inappropriate. Instead of calling him out and defending the citizens who took the time to attend the meeting, Laster praised Hood for the way he ran the meeting.
Commission meetings are open to the public under the Brown Act. It is every American’s constitutional right to protest peacefully. Nobody’s rights should be restricted simply because someone doesn’t like what they say.
If the Commission on Gang Prevention and Intervention and the various agencies that sit on the commission genuinely worked together to address crime, gangs and violence in our communities, we wouldn’t have had young men unfairly indicted on a gang conspiracy charge that was tossed out of court, we would not have shot spotters in our community, we would have had an independent audit on San Diego’s gang database and the commission wouldn’t make moves to silence the concerned community members who show up to its meetings.
If some of these issues were addressed, I would be convinced to stay. The Commission on Gangs is ineffective, and communities affected by gangs should develop their own commission. The city of San Diego might be OK with wasteful spending, but I am not OK with wasting my time. And since no one is listening, I’m out.
Cornelius Bowser is pastor of Charity Apostolic Church. Bowser’s commentary has been edited for style and clarity. See anything in there we should fact check? Tell us what to check out here.