It was with a heavy heart that I watched the events unfold in Ferguson, Missouri.
You hear it in the news – another young African American shot – but usually his name is left out of the headlines or the story completely – another statistic, a fact but not a face.
But not this time.
In Ferguson, a predominantly black city of 21,000 residents where two out of the 55 police officers are African American, the people rose up in protest after an unarmed Michael Brown, just 18 years old, was shot and killed.
Peaceful protests became violent protests, and the SWAT teams and armored guards added fuel to the sorrow, grief, anger and outrage.
Ferguson became a war-zone.
It’s through anger and pain that cities around the country are crying out – it doesn’t have to be this way.
From Oscar Grant to Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown, we need this to end. But we need to do more than talk to each other. We need more than tears, even more than outrage. We need concrete action and we need it every day.
So what can we do?
First, we need to support those who stand up for equal rights for all people. If you are not a member of the ACLU, PowerPAC, the NAACP, the National Council of La Raza, the Asian Law Caucus or other organizations fighting for civil rights and equal justice, please consider joining and supporting.
Second, we need to make sure that every police department reflects the communities they serve. The immediate de-escalation of violence after the state police took control of the situation was not an accident.
The officer put in charge was a neighbor – born and raised in Ferguson – and knew the community and came not to occupy, but to protect. We need to look beyond Ferguson, and look at ourselves.
Even in our own towns, we have a long way to go to make sure our police departments reflect our communities. That’s why creating special training, support and incentives for diversity within law enforcement will be one of my priorities in the State Assembly.
And most of all, we need to understand that the way to stop violence is with peace, justice, jobs and support for all of those caught in its grip.
An officer shooting an unarmed young man is a terrible tragedy. But so is a young man shot by another young man. And that’s the kind of tragedy that is not distant news from Ferguson, as compelling as that news may be.
That tragedy plays out on our streets nearly every night.
I’ve dedicated my career and my life to working with struggling youth and their families – as a city council member, school board member, lifelong youth mentor, nonprofit leader and social worker.
And I know there is hope for every child.
I have seen firsthand – through programs I’ve helped create, like CEO Youth, which is creating entrepreneurial opportunities for teens who are truant or on the path to dropping out of school, and various mentorship programs – that when you give kids a chance with a great education, job training, guidance and engagement, you can change their course from likely to fail to likely to succeed.
Our country cannot bear to see another black youth gunned down in the street, and as a community, we must do everything we can to create a pipeline of opportunities so more children have a greater chance at a successful, healthy life. And I will fight every single day to get it right for kids and families.
Tony Thurmond is a candidate for the California Assembly, District 15.