Opinion: The language of violence

There have been over two dozen shootings in Long Beach so far in 2021—including two separate incidents in which 16-year-olds were wounded by gunfire.

Data obtained by the Long Beach Post shows that the second half of 2020 was especially violent. December marked the worst month in at least five years with 53 recorded shootings. A 14-year-old boy was among the 19 people wounded or killed that month. By comparison, only 13 shootings were reported in December 2019.

The numbers always fluctuate but one thing is for certain, there are always numbers.

I want to look beyond the numbers because that’s where my mind goes when I think about violence in Long Beach. My son is a number in some statistical database somewhere, probably a few of them I’m sure. But just like every other person that has been impacted by the lack of resources and opportunities in the city of Long Beach, my son was more than a number.

He was a young vibrant 17 year old who was killed by two young men close to his age. And when I think about that day my son was taken from me and my family, I don’t think about the pain or the loss that we experienced that day. No, I don’t think about those things anymore. Now, I think about those two young men that took my son’s life.

We know that they were two young men of color. We know that they had gone on a three-day shooting spree shooting six people of color. My son was the only one who would die. I think about how we failed those two young men. How we as a community did not meet their needs, how we as a community fell short, and because we fell short, we lost my son that day. My family lost the person who really was the sunshine through some of our darkest days.

Those two young men were probably not very different from my son. They probably wanted a better life. They just didn’t know how to achieve it. Because once again as a community and a society we have failed our young people in Long Beach. Because we have failed to communicate with them, they have found a different way to communicate with us.

The language that the youth of Long Beach speak is violence. During my time working at Homeboy Industries, my great mentor Father Gregory Boyle often said hurt people, hurt people. I know this to be true. As a young man growing up in Long Beach, I myself caused a lot of pain. I hurt my community. I spoke the language of violence. At that moment in my life, I felt that violence was the only language that anybody could understand. In actuality it was the only language that I knew how to speak.

I did not know how to tell people that society had made me feel less than. I did not know how to tell people that I didn’t feel included when I went to school. I didn’t know how to tell people that I needed more than I was getting. So I spoke the language of violence that so many of our young people here in Long Beach speak fluently.

Because my community and I were speaking different languages, the results were tragic. Instead of therapy I received harassment. Instead of rehabilitation I received incarceration. Instead of resources I received trauma. It is time for the City of Long Beach to break this vicious cycle that exists within our community. It is time for us to catch up with the rest of the County of Los Angeles and understand that resources, support, and investment in our communities of color is needed, not punitive measures. We must realize that we cannot continue to  incarcerate our way out of this problem, our community deserves better.

Jose Osuna is a formerly incarcerated North Long Beach resident who spent almost a decade working at Homeboy Industries before working with organizations that help individuals impacted by the justice system. He is a member of the Post’s Community Editorial Board.

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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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