KENNEWICK, Wash. — Jennifer Humphries wants you to know one thing about her.
“I’ve had some people come and say, ‘you’re acting like you’re perfect and your family’s perfect,’ no we’re a hot mess too,” she laughed.
The Kennewick mother is the voice behind the Blue Bridge Project. It’s a Facebook page she created to bridge the gap between community members and police, as well as prevent violence in the Tri-Cities.
Humphries said she was driven to start the page after October 15th, when two teens were fatally shot in Kennewick, just hours within each other. Eighteen-year-old Jatzivy Sarabia was shot while riding in a car and 17-year-old Elias Salazar was shot in a separate situation, a 14-year-old was charged for his death.
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“So, I’m kind of surrounded by it and I just started thinking ‘what can we do about this?’”
On the Blue Bridge Project, Jennifer has posted the pictures of Tri-Cities residents lost to murder, addiction, suicide and survivors of violent situations. She wants to start the conversation about what’s happened to innocent people throughout the community and how crime has a ripple effect on generations of families.
But Humphries wasn’t always this inspired to create change.
Years ago, she battled drug addiction, which landed her in the criminal justice system.
“I’ve been clean for years now, but my husband has been in and out of recovery. This hits very close to home, and I’ve had to raise my kids in an environment where he isn’t always available,” Humphries said.
Finally, in the early 2000’s she reached a point where she wanted out of addiction and leaned on her faith in God to help her through.
Humphries believes in order to prevent violence, especially among youth, as well as gang involvement, there has to be accountability at home. But that can be hard when parents themselves may not have a clean past.
“People get clean, and they get their jobs, and they get their kids back and then there’s still a gap between, ‘how do I parent my kids now that there’s been trauma? How do I be an authority when I’ve never respected authority?” Humphries said parents and guardians need to lean on community resources for help.
She also would like to see more programs to help parents after serving time in jail or prison.
Kennewick Police Sergeant Chris Littrell has similar thoughts to Jennifer.
“I’ve listened to a number of gang members over the years asking them why did you join the gang life? And they’ve told me, a lot of times it’s my parents don’t care about me,” Littrell said.
So far this year, Kennewick has had 11 homicides. Littrell remembers a time when that number was much lower.
“I was a detective for four years there in my early part, and yeah, there were years where we would have zero homicides or just a couple in our city and that’s kind of been our norm,” he said.
Littrell said he’s noticed that crime rates in the Tri-Cities ebbs and flows. He said rates are also influenced by what’s happening the community around us, like the COVID-19 pandemic. The sergeant said it’s brought on a lot of angst, causing people to think with their emotional brain, not rational.
While policing may be part of Littrell’s life’s work, he’s also a father to four daughters, so he knows a thing or two about parenting.
“Our kids need boundaries, our kids need consequences, both positive and negative consequences to their behavior,” but he realizes, that isn’t everyone’s reality, “now, that’s sometimes really hard, if you’re a single parent, working two jobs, and you’re trying to keep your child away from the gang life, don’t be afraid to ask for help.”
“If they’re struggling with their child, they need to be accountable enough to say, I’m in over my head I need help,” Jennifer added.
Littrell also advised parents to get their kids and teens involved in healthy activities like sports, music, organizations like the Boys and Girls Club or faith-based organizations.
He said it’s also important to have the hard chats with your kids and establish mutual respect.
Humphries said she’s only getting started on the Blue Bridge Project. In the future, she hopes to have meetings and other events.
“We need people to know, that no matter what their child did, whether they pulled a trigger, or did drugs, and whatever side of the gun they were on, they have a family that loves them, and it’s time for us to really find answers, but the answer is to just not blame each other, if somebody needs help, go help them. We don’t need any more lines in the sand, we need to come together, we need to figure this out, we need to look in the mirror and do what’s best for our kids. I know it’s never going to completely end, and we can’t fix every problem, but I can’t go to bed at night and know that I didn’t at least try.”
You can find The Blue Bridge Project here. Sergeant Littrell said Kennewick Police love to be a part of community events or even neighborhood barbecues, you can always send them an email to invite them.
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