In a town hall meeting motivated by the desire to do something rather than just talk, hundreds gathered to develop strategies for curbing youth violence in San Francisco. Held Monday evening at the Third Baptist Church in the Fillmore District, the event was moderated by San Francisco’s NAACP chapter president, the Rev. Amos Brown.
“We are here to televise our tears,” said Brown, who opened the meeting with a prayer for all young lives taken before their prime. “We are here to tell the people with power in this city that the time for talk is past, and the time for action has come.”
Attendees at Monday’s event were predominantly people of color. And though this was a night of focusing on youth violence, this crowd skewed middle-aged or older.
Serious youth crime has been in steady decline since the 1990s. But gun violence rates in the United States are still staggering. According to the research group Everytown, firearms are the leading cause of death for black children and teens, who are 14 times more likely than white youth to die by gun homicide.
Earlier this month, 15-year-old Day’von Hann was shot and killed in the Mission District, leaving an entire community heartbroken and questioning how this could happen to a boy whose future seemed so promising.
This was on many attendees’ minds on Monday night, and more than a dozen community speakers were given the opportunity to make their voices heard — just three minutes each, and if they strayed too far from an idea for concrete action, Brown interrupted them.
“But what do you propose we do,” he pressed.
The responses he got were, for the most part, thoughtful.
“I propose we get all the youth together in the room,” said one speaker, “And not just the ‘good’ kids, but the ones we call ‘knuckleheads,’ the ones who need to be listened to the most, and ask them what’s in their hearts and minds.”
Others spoke of the importance of good male role models and mentors. They suggested meditation classes for those recovering from trauma, business incubators for burgeoning entrepreneurs, affordable mental health services and rehab for those struggling with addiction, and mediation opportunities for gang members.
“I want our youth to know that they were not the ones who broke themselves,” said William Park, speaking passionately into the microphone. “It is the system that is broken, not them.”
He added that he was in prison for “31 years and 21 days,” and that he dreams of a justice system that does not criminalize people of color.
As they spoke, San Francisco Police Department Chief Bill Scott listened intently.
“What I’m hearing tonight,” Scott said, once everyone else had had a chance to speak, “is that we need to address the root causes. That this isn’t about more policing.”
“And I also think after the meeting is where the real work happens.”
The Rev. Harry Williams of GLIDE Memorial Methodist Church in the Tenderloin sat in the second row, greeting many acquaintances with a friendly wave.
“Young ‘Day Day’ Hann was murdered in the Mission District,” he said. “I came here tonight to find organizations to partner with, as well as to find out why things are going the way they are.”
Mostly, he found what he was looking for.
“The answers that people came up with tonight were not punitive,” he said. “Nobody’s talking about making arrests. People are talking about coming together, and listening to young people, actually bringing them to the table. And I think that’s the beginning.”