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July 30, 2013

In L.A., Community Engagement Helps Reduce Gun Violence

On the most dangerous streets of Los Angeles, Calif., “gun violence equals gang violence,” says Police Chief Charlie Beck of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD). Six years ago the Mayor’s office and the LAPD came up with an innovative way to combat gang violence with a program called “Summer Night Lights”. The program invites the entire community for a night of fun and food, and provides access to valuable resources like employment opportunities.

Before “Summer Night Lights”, the summer months were known as the “killing season”, and the 32 parks that now host the program were known as the “killing fields.” Now, community members of all ages, including rival gang members, have become part of these night-time festivities.

“Summer Night Lights” gives everyone a chance to build safe and supportive communities through positive interactions like barbecuing or playing soccer together. It also gives police officers and community members an important opportunity to look at each other differently, says Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes.

“For example, you’ve been chased throughout the year, you’re a gang member and you’ve been chased by a particular police officer. The police officer has never looked past the tattoo, and you have never looked past the badge,” he said.

Both the community and the LAPD have benefited from the program’s proven success at decreasing gang related violence.

Since 2007 gang related homicide has decreased by 47 percent, the number of shooting victims are down 44 percent and gang related assault with a deadly weapon against a police officer is down 66 percent. Both the offices of the mayor and of the LAPD share the philosophy that if you provide people a chance to choose something good that they will leave the negative option behind and make choices that lead to safety, and thriving communities.


“If it’s a choice between a body bag and all these resources they will choose the resources,” – Deputy Mayor Guillermo Cespedes.

Warm-up questions

1. Why do you think that someone would choose to be in a gang?

2. What are some other ways to solve problems without violence?

3. What does retaliation mean, and how does it contribute to the high murder rate between rival gangs

Discussion questions

1. How does having positive interactions like playing soccer or dancing together create a safer environment for communities with gangs?

2. Is the program worth its six million dollar price tag? Why or why not?

3. Police Chief Charlie Beck of the LAPD says his philosophy is, “if you don’t put positive things in these open spaces they will be filled by negative things.” First, explain how this strategy applies to the “Summer Night Lights” program? Second think of a situation in your own life that could be better and explain how you could make a positive change using the philosophy of Charlie Beck.

— Compiled by Carrie Waltemeyer and Katie Gould for NewsHour Extra

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