Washington Governor Jay Inslee was in Yakima Thursday, Oct. 5, for a community listening session. Over 100 people attended to address gangs and gun violence.
In the past few years, the Yakima Valley has been the center of media coverage for high per capita homicide rates. In 2011, The Seattle Times ran a piece on gangs in Central Washington. Local outlets like the Yakima Herald have also been covering the trends in violent crime.
Inslee said he came to Yakima because the issue of gang and gun violence is particularly prominent here.
“The state needs to hear from Yakima because it’s kind of both the epicenter of the challenge and good ideas as well,” Inslee said.
Yakima County has seen 19 homicides this year. Eighty percent were gun-related. It may not sound like a lot, but the entire county has a population less than 250,000. Seattle, a city seven times larger than Yakima, has about the same number of homicides.
In 2014, Yakima made headlines by landing number two on Time Magazine’s list of places Americans are terrified to live in. The list was compiled by data from Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index.
Suggestions for the community listening session included universal preschool and outreach programs among non-profits with the goal of targeting students between 3 and 6 p.m. Experts believe these hours after school are when gangs recruit many youth.
Race, sex and poverty also came up. Yakima is nearly 50 percent Latino/Hispanic. Of the 19 deaths in the last year, all but one have been male. Rival gangs in the Valley are believed to have California roots, where many young Mexican-American males forged new identities through gang membership.
Father Felipe Pulido from Yakima’s St. Joseph Catholic Church addressed this.
“Let’s face it, most of our gang members come from Latino families,” Pulido said.
He also spoke of the way immigration affects youth and racial identity.
“When we are at home we act Mexican. When we are at school we act American,” he said. “And when our parents come to school to see us, we don’t know who we are. They live between two worlds, entre dos mundos.”
Yakima City Councilwoman Dulce Gutierrez also attended. She’s a longtime Yakima resident, having witnessed gang and gun violence firsthand. She asked Inslee for $300,000 in funding to continue “emphasis patrolling” from police.
She reminded people to humanize the issue of gangs.
“The people who engage in gang activities or gun violence, at one point were innocent kids and wanted to prosper and pursue their dreams, like yourself and like myself,” Gutierrez said. “I’m lucky to say I had a mentor, most of my peers did not. I would hope the community can help in raising our next generation of youth.”
In November, Inslee will lead a Joint Summit on Gang Prevention and Intervention in Tacoma to talk about gang violence in the state.