Urban cities and police departments across the nation are bracing themselves for the peak of summer – traditionally the most violent time of year. Here in Los Angeles, the gang capital of the world, youth in many at risk communities will have a safe place to spend hot summer nights thanks to the Summer Night Lights program made possible by the city, community groups and local businesses.
This year’s program will keep 16 city parks open after dark with organized activities such as sports, arts and films. All parks are located in the City of Los Angeles’ Gang Reduction and Youth Development zones and include intervention workers to help maintain cease-fires in the surrounding communities. Now in its second year, Summer Night Lights is expanding to include job opportunities for at least 10 young adults at each site to help develop and staff activities.
Summer Night Lights could not come at a better time for youth in our communities. Most summer schools are closed due to budget cuts. Teen summer employment is limited as out-of-work adults compete for the same jobs. Together, these factors have left a record number of young people out of school, out of work and in search of activities this summer.
Research consistently shows that crime spikes during the summer when youth are out of school and unengaged. Summer Night Lights is proving to be an effective way to curb this seasonal crime trend. Last year, communities surrounding the participating parks saw a 17 percent drop in violent gang-related crime, an 86 percent reduction in homicides and a 23 percent decrease in aggravated assaults. If only all our gang prevention strategies showed similar results.
Gang violence is bad for everyone – youth, communities, business and the economy. The Chamber has long advocated for a coordinated gang prevention strategy that includes the county, the private-sector and the school district. Summer Night Lights exemplifies what is possible when we all work together against a common goal.
The Chamber thanks our members Wells Fargo Bank, The California Endowment and the many other businesses and organizations that have helped get the Summer Night Lights program started this summer. The business community can continue to support this program through the Chamber at the Hot Summer’s Night benefit event on Tuesday, Aug. 4 at The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE.
This summer, let’s invest in these safe havens and help provide activities, jobs and hope for the young people in our underserved communities.
Gary Toebben is President & CEO of the Los Angeles Area Chamber of Commerce.