By Victor Seguin
Image by Alyssa Castro
MERCED, Calif. – Safety is a hot topic of debate in Merced. Labeled the murder capital of California – among other notorieties – Merced has garnered a very bad reputation for the level of violence that exists here.
The issue is almost always tied to questions of “public safety,” with calls to increase funding for police the usual response. But the best response to this problem is not increased policing, it is to invest in and repair our communities.
Merced has an abundance of parks and playgrounds, but very few of them are being maintained and protected. We have streets, such as Andregg Avenue and Dale Avenue – to give just two examples – that have no streetlights or sidewalks. Then there are the many condemned buildings and stray animals throughout South Merced that make living in this area dangerous.
At the root of the violence in Merced is the fact that city officials have allowed our community to deteriorate, creating the conditions that make it a perilous environment for residents.
There are many stories of people who are afraid to go outside in the daytime, of youth who are mistaken for gang members and attacked. This is what our city has come to, and it’s been this way for as long as I can remember.
In order to change this, we need real investment from the city. Light posts need to be added in neighborhoods that are without them, parks need to be maintained, and pedestrians need sidewalks. These are the most basic elements that allow residents to feel safe in their neighborhoods. Without them, how can anyone feel safe?
And what about posting police officers in parks instead of schools? This would not only make people who use the parks – children and adults – feel safer, it would also encourage community members to use the parks more often, and help build a friendly relationship between the community, law enforcement, and the Parks and Recreation Department. That isn’t something that exists right now.
Finally, we need our elected officials to reach out and to hear the concerns of our community. Unfortunately, none of the city officials responsible for governing Merced live in my part of town. As a result, they are mostly oblivious – or maybe indifferent – to what we see and live through every day here.
I hope one day that my neighbors and other community members will be able to freely walk through their neighborhoods without fearing for their safety. But this dream will only be achieved when the city recognizes its responsibility and begins to invest in the kinds of things that allow communities to flourish.
Increasing law enforcement is not the answer. We need a commitment to the community to end the violence.
Victor Seguin, 18, is a veteran Youth Reporter at We’Ced. He enjoys Anime and Rock music and is obsessed with Thrilling Intent. He loves to draw, write, and read. Victor sees mental health as a huge matter overlooked in our community, the entire Central Valley, and among youth. He hopes to one day help in the efforts of bringing a youth mental health facility to the Central Valley that is designed specifically for young people.