Editorial: Violence in Long Beach then and now

The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. Learn more about the board here.

Once upon a time in the ’80s and ’90s, Los Angeles County drug and gang violence was epic in the global imagination.

Long Beach is no exception. In 1991, at the peak of our city’s most violent year, there were 104 murders. No Long Beach resident who survived those decades wants to return to them.

Thankfully, Long Beach is safer now than perhaps we’ve ever been. But for how long?

There were 130 shootings reported between January and March of this year. Data is not yet available for April. That’s 145% more than this time last year. The number of shootings skyrocketed from 222 in 2019 to 381 last year, a shocking 71% increase. Murders are also slowly increasing, there were 22 in 2017, 30 in 2018, 34 in 2019, and 36 in 2020.

What is the story behind escalating violence in Long Beach?

Some stories blame California’s criminal justice reforms and the release of inmates due to COVID concerns. Additional narratives mislabel the violence as hate crimes. Another neglected narrative is racial tension within the Black and Brown communities.

There are anecdotes that implicate gang rivalries exacerbated by social media beef. Other potential plotlines include escalating conflicts among residents. 2020 and 2021’s publicized incidents of police violence and murder of unarmed citizens increased an already high distrust of the police in some communities. As a consequence, faith in the system to de-escalate violence is severely compromised. This same system continuously fails to outreach and to serve the gang-impacted community which intensifies the violence.

Another common story is stress. Perhaps, the increased violence in certain neighborhoods is spurred by the sheer suffering that has come with the loss of economic security and social support because of this pandemic. So we are clear, both of which were precarious before the pandemic in our rapidly gentrifying Long Beach.

Similar to how the media compounded and exacerbated violence in Long Beach 30 years ago, COVID-19 and its subsequent shutdowns have exacerbated the violence. The difference now is that we have all but eliminated positive face-to-face interactions that were an outlet for the aforementioned stress. When people are caged and/or constricted violence is a likely outcome.

The city has implemented several solutions. Community policing via neighborhood walks. A Coordinated Response Team. LBUSD violence prevention programs. Reentry programs. Trauma and resiliency programs. There was even a town hall on violence prevention led by a North Long Beach community leader.

And, without contraction, in order to enact an appropriate plot intervention, we desperately need to understand the motives of the antagonists. We also need to know exactly where this crime is happening and the demographics of the aggressors and the survivors.

The city recently released a “Public Health Approaches to Violence Prevention” report on April 20. It outlines violence prevention resources but no crime statistics and no explicit explanation for the current increase in crime.

We have a right to know what’s going on with crime in our neighborhoods. The city’s practice of reporting crime stats by LBPD division obscures the impact of what’s happening in each council district. While it may be uncomfortable for council members to see crime numbers reported by district, that information must be readily available.

Furthermore, it is the City Council’s responsibility to research and accurately narrate the causes of violence in Long Beach so we can remedy it. Solutions must emerge from the communities most impacted. Resources must be intentionally aligned to proactively address rising crime activity, not reactionary short-term grants and slush funds. Violence prevention consultants must be credible local messengers.

From 933 COVID-19 related deaths to 42 murders since the pandemic began, death is all around us. But dead men tell no tales. If the city fails to step up, who is going to be the hero of this story and produce more accountability for why violence is increasing and how crime statistics are reported? What story are we going to tell our children about Long Beach violence in the COVID decade?

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The Community Editorial Board is made up of seven members of the Long Beach community and are drawn from different life journeys, different parts of the city and different socioeconomic experiences. The board writes on issues and subjects in which it has a personal interest, experience or expertise. The board operates wholly separate from the newsroom and members serve a one-year term. The Community Editorial Board can be reached at [email protected]
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