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Following a fatal shooting two weeks ago that unleashed new fears of gang violence, hundreds of people showed up at a town meeting in Kearns tonight to tackle a resurgent gang problem.
Parents, students and city leaders seem to agree: this is not someone else's problem. It has to be solved neighborhood by neighborhood and family by family.
Alex Wiles grew up in Kearns. He is now the senior class president at Kearns High School. Like many others at the meeting tonight, he has hope for a community free of gang violence.
"It is the hope that comes from the homes in the community, from the streets in the community, that motivates the youth to bring about that change," he said.
The fatal shooting of 16-year-old Esteban Saidi has galvanized the community, for now. Most agree that more cops, more arrests and more enforcement won't solve the problem. "There is an element of enforcement. But if you think for one minute we are going to arrest our way out of this problem, we have a problem," said Salt Lake County Sherriff Jim Winder.
There are new programs in elementary schools to educate kids. "There's always a reason for hope. We all just need to get involved and work together," said Sgt. Mike Schoenfelt, with the Salt Lake County Metro Gang Task Force.
Many in the crowd lined up to be heard, but a constant refrain: Parents need to get more involved in the lives of their kids. "Some of these parents have no idea about the gangs, and so we need to educate both parents and the children on the gang problem," said community activist Kaisa Kinikini.
One mother came with her young kids and a willingness to work at the problem. "We can do it. It is going to take some time, but we can get there. We just all have to bond together, and I am willing to help," Yolanda Henderson said.
That is the key: a great willingness among everyone here to work together. They have set another meeting date for Feb. 23. In between now and then, they will work on some of the details of how the community starts to solve this problem from within.