Lead Story Northeast Edition

Group calls for youth development programs in wake of shooting

BOYLE HEIGHTS — In response to the shooting death of a 14-year old Boyle Heights boy Aug. 9, the Boyle Heights for Youth Campaign, a coalition of 23 local nonprofit organizations, is calling on the city of Los Angeles to increase investment in positive youth development programs.

“We can’t continue to see youth lives as disposable,” said Lou Calanche, executive director at Legacy LA and co-chair of the Boyle Heights for Youth Campaign. “We all must come together to ensure that there is adequate investment in positive youth development programs in Los Angeles.

“Given that the city spends 70 times more on police than it does on youth, it is critical that as a city we view increased investment in positive youth development programs as a critical public safety strategy as well.”

Calanche spoke Aug. 12, three days after Jesse James Romero was shot to death by police.

According to police, one witness saw Romero fire a gun at police who were responding to a vandalism call. Another witness said Romero apparently tried to throw a gun over a fence and the gun discharged when it hit the ground. A gun was recovered at the scene, police said.

It was the latest in a series of controversial shootings by Los Angeles police.

As the Boyle Heights for Youth campaign pointed out, the city of Los Angeles is home to more than 800,000 youmg people between the ages of 10-24. There is concern, based on frequent violent encounters between young people and law enforcement, that the city does not adequately invest in programs and services that young residents in Boyle Heights need to succeed.

Focusing the city’s attention on youth development is a clear way to reduce the criminalization of youth, and is a proven public safety strategy that is prioritized in other cities across the country, but not in Los Angeles, Colanche said.

“Everyone says that youth are the future, but the city of L.A. doesn’t invest in us, or our future,” said Araceli Rodriguez, 17, a youth leader at Legacy LA, a community-based nonprofit organization focused on youth development.

Other major cities such as New York, Boston and San Francisco, are leading the way in making deliberate, large-scale investments in youth development. They each have a youth development department, funded by city revenues, that is tasked with implementing a comprehensive citywide strategy. This is in sharp contrast with the city of Los Angeles, Rodriguez said.

The Boyle Heights for Youth Campaign is asking the city to create a citywide Youth Development Department funded by general fund revenue or by redirecting law enforcement funds.

The group also called on the city to create a comprehensive plan to serve and increase youth development opportunities for the most vulnerable youth in the most under-resourced areas of Los Angeles and to fund community-driven, public-safety strategies focused on engaging community and increasing positive youth development opportunities instead of prioritizing law enforcement efforts.