Rep. Jake Wheatley: Violence is a learned behavior and we must start the collective process of unlearning it.

Photo: Office of Rep. Wheatley

Less than a year ago, I remember speaking with the family of young Zykier Young, who was shot and killed in his home, and expressing my condolences and reaffirming my commitment to making sure we do all that we can to reduce and eliminate senseless violence, especially gun violence that injures and kills our babies. Fast forward to today and just recently, more senseless violence has continued to destroy our Northside community, our city, and our country.

Our Northside residents and many other areas of the 19th Legislative District and city are experiencing what feels like a surge of increased violence. The pain and suffering must stop! My heart goes out to the families that have lost loved ones due to violence of any kind. As an elected official, I feel compelled to do more to change the root causes that lead to and make it easy to hurt, harm, or kill our citizens.  

Many of you will question whether there is anything that can truly stop violence from happening. Some will push for more restrictions on accessing guns, some will push for harsher punishments for those committing the violence, while others still will want our social conditions addressed to minimize or eliminate violence. I don’t believe there is one single answer to how we will change what we are seeing in our homes, communities, and world. What I do believe is we must not stop or get frustrated or give up in trying any and every means available to ensure our children are taught how to deal with the challenges in their lives without resorting to violence. That means having appropriate resources to allow families to access support for food, housing, and basic needs in ways that are life affirming and not dismissive and demeaning. Our environments, both inside our households and beyond, are tremendous influences as to how we see the world and interact with it. Therefore, we must commit ourselves to making sure we create safe and nurturing spaces and deescalating environments within our homes while we also fight for those same types of conditions within our communities. None of this can be done successfully without governmental support and investments coordinated and targeted with community leadership.  

Yes, we have a problem with how easily citizens can ascertain legal and illegal guns. However, limiting access to guns will not resolve our community violence challenges. There should be more resources and prioritization of those resources to create, maintain, and support safe spaces for our young people and out of school time programming. We also need to increase our support for families who are suffering from a lack of quality and affordable housing, economic stability, and family support. I realize that creating a better and more coordinated network of support can go a long way to empower and help our families, but this, in and of itself, will not resolve our community’s violence challenge.  

I am convinced that violence is a learned behavior, and we must do everything we can to start the collective process of unlearning what we have been trained in, shown, and reinforced to believe. As an elected official, I’m limited in what I can do with how you handle your family culture as it relates to violence, but what I can do is support policies and resources with professionals and networks available to assist you and your family with the tools to unlearn the behaviors and conditions that lead to violent responses. I can fight to make sure we have safe places and programs that are positive reinforcements of the things that keep our children strong and productive. I can work to address poverty and its associated conditions that have created whole communities where hope is lost and life is diminished.

What we cannot do is accept the violence that is happening far too often in our Northside neighborhoods. It’s not normal and doing anything and everything needed to reduce it and eliminate it is on each one of us. Government working with our families and communities is our only hope to eliminate violence in all forms from our daily lives. I’m still committed to that goal and will continue to do whatever I can to assist in identifying and eliminating the root causes of it. Please reach out to my team and me at The People’s Office if you need help or resources, including connections to local programs and services to help you and your family. You can call us at 412-471-7760 or reach out by email to jwheatley@pahouse.net.

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