Crime survivors urge new priorities

Crime survivors gather Tuesday at the state Capitol in Sacramento. (Photo: Rally organizers)

Today, April 4, during National Victim Rights’ Week, nearly 500 hundred crime survivors were gathering in Sacramento to share our stories, honor our loved ones and call for new safety priorities. From mothers who have lost loved ones to young men experiencing violence in our communities, we are coming together to call for change.

The solutions to community violence in Sacramento, Stockton and cities across California will not be as simple as increased “law and order,” building more prisons or increasing jail time. Instead, real and lasting solutions will come from putting the voices and needs of crime survivors at the center of policy making.

Survivors of violent crime are more likely to be low-income, younger than 30 and Latino or African-American.

For me, this is personal. I lost my brother, Terri, to a double homicide in 2012. That is why have dedicated my life to making sure that crime survivors get the resources for the treatment and healing we deserve.

I was 15 years old the first time I experienced violence. While attending a city-wide high school dance in downtown Stockton, my two friends and I were all of a sudden hit by bullets. My friends and I survived, but to this day, I can still hear the sound of gunshots and the rush of fear I felt from that event over 20 years ago.

Research shows that communities who are most harmed by violence are the least helped. Survivors of violent crime are more likely to be low-income, younger than 30 and Latino or African-American. Despite the numbers, communities of color also have the least access to publicly funded services.

From a young age, my mother raised me to help people in our community. Every year at Christmas we donated gifts to Angel Tree for families of incarcerated individuals. After my brother’s untimely death at 31, my mother, two sisters and I became even more committed to helping our community. Today, we are doing our part to prevent others from experiencing heartache and pain as survivors of crime, while also changing the narrative about crime survivors. We want to heal—not just ourselves, but also our communities.

We need increased investment in violence prevention programs that directly address the reasons why individuals resort to violence as their only option.

That’s why I work with Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice, a network of crime survivors from across California elevating the voices of crime survivors in justice policy debates. Together, we have won victories, including growing the number of trauma recovery centers in the state from just one to nine.

These centers provide an innovative model of treatment and therapy for victims and survivors of violence and trauma, as well as their families. Our communities are deeply wounded by trauma and violence. We need a place to grieve as well as tools and resources to work through feelings of loss, hopelessness and anger that we can channel toward healing ourselves and our communities.

First, we need to invest more resources toward healing and trauma recovery services statewide. Every city and community should have a trauma recovery center to offer survivors of violent crime a safe, culturally-competent environment to access comprehensive support to address trauma and recover from violence.

Second, we need increased investment in violence prevention programs that directly address the reasons why individuals resort to violence as their only option. I often share the story of how hard my brother worked to stay out of gangs and focus on his studies, only to be pulled into that life due to fear of retaliation and lack of another option to be safe in his school or neighborhood.

Third, we need a comprehensive, statewide plan to scale up crime prevention, community-based mental health treatment and rehabilitation. A balanced approach to public safety means conducting a comprehensive review of the availability of crime prevention, mental health treatment and rehabilitation at the local level, and scaling up to match the need for these programs. With a comprehensive plan and investment strategy, we can stop the cycle, save money, and protect survivors more effectively by investing in what works.

Finally, we need to make sure that crime survivors have a seat at the table in shaping the decisions that affect our lives. In Stockton, crime survivors have the opportunity to work in partnership with city leaders and law enforcement to ensure real transformation can happen. That should be happening in cities across California.

Only by building a justice system that reflects the needs of crime survivors can we truly keep our communities safe. When survivors speak, will you listen and join our efforts?

Ed’s  Note: Tashante McCoy-Ham leads the Stockton chapter of Crime Survivors for Safety and Justice and works as a case manager at the city’s only trauma recovery center. She launched the Owl Movement after her brother’s murder.

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