You Are Not Alone

Posted: May 29, 2019

A Violence Intervention Case Study

Intervention and Counseling staffers (from left) Ricardo Garcia-Acosta, Angelina Gutierrez, JD Rhone and Lupe Serrano-Lopez.

Our efforts to support young shooting victims in Oakland often require multiple Youth ALIVE! programs and staff – hospital-based violence intervention specialists, violence interrupters, mental health counselors, case managers, even management — to pitch in and do their thing. This recent case study, in which all client names have been changed, is an excellent illustration of the complex needs of victims and how we support them.

Andres is 17, a high school student in Oakland. His best friend is Inez. On a day in October outside her house, Inez found herself in a physical altercation with a young woman named Sofia. Sofia’s boyfriend got word of the fight and pulled up in front of the house. He got out of his car, approached the fighters, and pulled out a gun. Andres attempted to intervene, to de-escalate. But the threat persisted. Andres implored the boyfriend to put the gun away; or, if he was going to shoot someone, said Andres, “shoot me.” The boyfriend fired, hitting Andres once in the chest, and fled.

Andres was taken to hospital. In the life of a young person in pain, in shock, in fear, this is one of the places Youth ALIVE! steps in. We intervene to bring comfort, support, safety and peace. Violence often leads to more violence. But knowledgeable, sensitive intervention in wounded lives can bring healing. And that healing, from a bodily wound and from the trauma that comes with it, can prevent further violence, as victims feel safer, calmer, more optimistic and more prepared to make safer decisions, for themselves and the community. Our priority is to return to victims of violence and their families a sense of safety and stability, both of which are necessary for physical and emotional healing after an assault. It is crucial that they know they are not alone in the incredibly difficult aftermath of an assault.

The day after his shooting, once Andres was declared stable, he got a bedside visit from Youth ALIVE!’s Caught in the Crossfire (CiC). CiC’s Ricardo Garcia-Acosta introduced himself and explained to Andres the support we offer. Immediately, Ricardo understood the high-profile nature of the shooting, which had been captured on video and announced in social media. The challenges would be many, the case complicated. But Andres and his family would not be alone. CiC’s Lupe Serrano-Lopez was assigned as Andres’ case manager. She would help Andres keep on track to graduate from high school. She would help him make it to medical appointments. She would help him navigate the legal system. She would help him and his family apply to the Alameda County Victims of Crime office for financial compensation for this profound setback in their lives. But there were more urgent problems that would require a variety of skills, all to be found at Youth ALIVE!

Andres’ family was urging him to cooperate with the police investigation and he agreed to do so. This raised fears of retaliation. So Lupe called in Youth ALIVE!’s Violence Interrupter team. These are our staffers who know the Oakland streets, who are trusted on those streets, who can get close to people involved in violent incidents to determine the substance of a beef and help both sides untangle their dispute peacefully. They have saved many lives. VI’s began their work to determine if there were further safety concerns, if there were any group or gang affiliations – of the perpetrator or the victim – that could lead to further community conflict and violence. They found that no one involved was gang affiliated; they confirmed with Andres that no one intended to obstruct his right to seek justice for himself and his family.

CiC’s Lupe supported Andres’ family in a meeting with his school administration about addressing his safety upon returning to school, as well as performing some rumor control. Andres was assigned a Youth ALIVE! mental health counselor to support healing his trauma and to help him cope with the pressure of returning to school. Lupe continued to provide mentoring and case management services.

Then word came that Andres had been denied victim compensation. Why would this victim, some would say hero, who had never been in trouble before, who was not gang-affiliated, who was cooperating in the police investigation, be denied his rightful compensation? Because, according to his and witness testimony in the police incident report, he had asked to be shot, which was (mis)interpreted by the decision-making board as inciting violence. Victim compensation programs have helped countless victims, but the rules and rulings, made by a board in Sacramento, can be subjective, even arbitrary.

Andres, with help from Youth ALIVE!’s Ricardo Garcia-Acosta and our Clinical Director, Nicky MacCallum, is working with the Alameda Victim of Crime office to file an appeal. They are optimistic and the police officer on the scene has agreed to clarify his report. In the meantime, Andres and his family are more engaged than ever with Lupe, CiC and their mental health counselor, Angelina Gutierrez. Andres is set to graduate high school in June.