Eliminating Community Violence – It Takes Each One of Us

State Rep. Jake WheatleyState Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny
Op-Ed by PA State Rep. Jake Wheatley, D-Allegheny

Less than one year ago, I remember speaking with the family of Zykier Young, a one-year-old who was shot and killed in his home and expressing my condolences and reaffirming my commitment to ensure my colleagues and I would do all we could to reduce and eliminate senseless violence, especially gun violence, that injures and kills our babies. Fast forward to today, and just recently, more senseless violence has continued to destroy our communities and countries. Our cities and towns are experiencing what feels like a surge of increased violence. The pain and suffering must stop! My heart goes out to the families who’ve lost loved ones behind violence of any kind. As an elected official, I feel compelled to do more to fight even harder to change the root causes that lead to and make it easy to hurt, harm, or kill.

Many of you know will question whether there is anything that can truly stop violence from happening. Some will push for stricter gun access, some will advocate for harsher punishments for those committing acts of violence, while others still will to address changes to social conditions to minimize or eliminate violence. I don’t believe there is one single answer to how we will change the realities that we are seeing in our homes, communities, and world. What we can’t do is stop, get frustrated, or give up trying any and every means available to make sure our children are taught how to deal with the challenges in their lives without resulting to violence.

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That means we must have appropriate resources in place for families to access food, housing, and their basic needs in ways that are life-affirming and not dismissive and demeaning. Our environments – both inside and outside of our homes – are tremendous influences as to how we see the world and interact with it. We must commit ourselves to making sure we create safe, nurturing, and deescalating environments within our homes while we also create those conditions within our communities. None of this can be successful without governmental support and coordinated, targeted investments with community leadership.

We clearly have a problem with how easily people can access legal and illegal guns. We do need more resources to create, maintain and support safe spaces for youth and out of school time programming. We also need to increase our support for families who are suffering from a lack of quality, affordable housing and those who lack economic stability and family support. Creating a workable, coordinated network of support to empower and assist families is certainly a step in the right direction. However, these efforts will not resolve our community’s violence challenges.

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I am convinced violence is a learned behavior, and we must do everything we can to start the collective process of unlearning what we have been trained, shown, and reinforced to believe. While I may be limited in what I can do with how you handle your family culture as it relates to violence, I can advocate for policies and resources to assist you and your family to unlearn the behaviors and conditions that lead to violent responses. I can continue to work to ensure we have safe places and programs that provide the positive reinforcement our children need to be strong and productive. I can continue to address poverty and its associated conditions that cause many to lose hope.

What we cannot do is accept the violence we see far too often and treat it as normal. It’s certainly not normal and doing all we can to reduce and eliminate it is our collective responsibility. Government working with our families and communities is our only hope to eliminate violence in all forms from our daily lives. I remain committed to that goal.

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Rep. Jake Wheatley is the Democratic chairman of the Pa. House Professional Licensure Committee and represents the 19th Legislative District.

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