Opinion Columns & Blogs

Carl Brewer: Be diligent, united in anti-gang efforts

I've been saddened and inspired by recent developments in our city's lingering effort to combat gangs and youth violence.

I am saddened by the senseless death of a young person in our community — the killing of 13-year-old Miguel Angel Andrade Martinez, who answered an early-morning knock on the door of his home only to be met by several bullets. The suspects, according to police, had targeted the wrong house while seeking retaliation for an earlier fight.

Miguel was not a gang member. He was a middle-schooler who played football for the Wichita Aztecs, a team the Wichita City Council acknowledged last year for its winning ways on the field and in the classroom. His death reminds us that youth violence can touch any of us at any place, any time. It may be concentrated in certain neighborhoods, but it has no boundaries.

I am inspired by the response of Miguel's neighbors. They saw the fleeing suspects, called police and provided information that led to arrests. Police credit the neighbors' quick action and courage with the swift response of law enforcement officials, who stress that residents can go a long way in fighting crime by reporting activity that is unusual or suspicious.

But intimidated and misguided residents too often remain silent while gangs wreak havoc in their neighborhoods — committing acts of vandalism, burglary, assault, rape and murder.

It's my hope that the action of Miguel's neighbors signals that Wichitans are fed up with our decades-long battle with gangs and escalating youth violence. I hope we've seen too many young lives taken, too many bright futures snuffed out and too many neighborhoods slide into decay.

That's what I sensed last weekend during an anti-gang march in the northeast Wichita neighborhood where I was raised. Nearly 250 people marched for more than an hour, then discussed problems and possible solutions at a church.

It was a diverse crowd. People seemed to understand that gangs and violence represent a threat to our youths, our neighborhoods and our city's reputation and economic health. Through May of this year, police had arrested 544 gang members on a variety of charges, responded to three gang-related homicides and seized 38 guns.

We need more than a symbolic march. On this issue, we need to remain diligent and united every day, in part because there is an emerging generation of new gang members. New ones are extremely dangerous, because they will use violence to establish their reputations.

How can you help? Support a youth organization. Mentor a child. Spend time with your own child. Know their friends. Set guidelines. Enforce them. And remember: There's nothing wrong with good old-fashioned discipline.

You can also continue to report crimes and suspicious activity. Call 911, 316-267-2111 (Crime Stoppers), 316-267-7228 (gang hotline) or 316-268-4191 (detectives' gang unit). If you're afraid, just remember Miguel. Please also remember to keep his family in your prayers.