Ending youth violence: A new generation of ideas

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According to testimony that focused on youth crime and violence in North Minneapolis, social and economic factors that directly contribute to gangs and gang violence include prevalence of poverty, unemployment, and the housing crisis that is leaving neighborhoods in foreclosure, creating homelessness among students, and exacerbating low academic performance.

Ending Youth Violence: A New Generation of Ideas brought together stakeholders to end youth violence in a one-day conference from 8am – 4pm Tuesday, October 18 at the Holiday Inn 1500 Washington Ave. S. on the University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities West Bank campus.

William English Moderator and Director of City Inc, Don Samuels Minneapolis 5th Ward Councilmember, Dr. Heidi L. Barajas, Executive Director of Urban Research Outreach and Engagement Center (UROC) Rev. Jerry McAfee, Pastor of New Salem Baptist Church, Spike Moss youth advocate, and John Harrington DFL State Senator for District 67 in St. Paul, examined the information presented in the ending youth violence report.

The Ending Youth Violence project is a collaboration of several organizations: The City Inc., Juvenile Justice Advocacy Committee (JJAC), the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community, Phyllis Wheatley Community Center and the University of Minnesota’s Urban Research Outreach and Engagement Center (UROC).

A document prepared by the City of Minneapolis Department of Health and Family Support for Youth Gang Crime and Prevention Services (YGCPS) conducted an assessment which focused on four North Minneapolis neighborhoods: Folwell, Hawthorne, Jordan and McKinley.

“There have been peace vigils, marches, weeping, wailing, and a lot of hard work by a lot of individuals,” English said. “This problem facing zip code 55411 has been with us for many years,” he said.

According to a study for the Center Disease Control and Prevention, a United States federal agency under the Department of Health and Human Services based in DeKalb County Georgia; nationwide homicide is the second leading cause of deaths ages 10 to 24 with 84% killed by firearms.

One problem is the easy accessibility to firearms.

“I can buy a $2 dollar gun, a $20 dollar gun, or a $200 dollar gun within two blocks of my house; but I have to walk two miles to get an apple,” said a City Inc. student.

Dr. Deanna Wilkinson leads The Columbus Violence Prevention Collaborative Cease Fire Initiative in Columbus, OH.

Her project is modeled after the Cease Fire Chicago project, a proven evidence based approach to reduce shootings and killings in high violence areas. The components of CVPC Cease Fire include; street outreach, community mobilization, faith leader involvement, public education campaigns and referrals to service providers.

“One of the things that keep us stuck in this country is the way we think about violence,” said Wilkinson. “The way we frame it is the bad apple. The environment is the bad barrel and the rotten barrel makes the apples go bad. We are dealing with something much more complex. Young people are experiencing events they are ill-equipped to deal with, and violence is part of the normal development of children in negotiating conflict and stresses,” she said.

Wilkinson reported that in her study, 77% of young men she interviewed witnessed murder by gun violence.

“We know guns are over-prevalent in urban communities and easy to get, but why do young people feel they need to have them?” Wilkinson asked.

Principal Investigator Dr. Esther Jenkins went into specific reasons reported by youth about social conditions, home and school to answer this question.

A middle school student reported, “when you wake up in the morning and you have your days, that’s how my neighborhood is. It has its days and you never know how it will be. Anything can happen at anytime. Wherever you go, you have to have the mentality that when you leave the house, it’s not guaranteed you will come back home.”

“One of the things children are very aware of is that things can jump off quickly and it is not necessarily of your own making. It is random, unpredictable and you can be caught in it as a victim,” Jenkins said.

Gender based fears among adolescent women, are another factor. “The suggestion of sexual victimization, men who try and ‘talk to you’, being followed home and in cars contributes to needs of protection,” Jenkins said.

High School males showed the most frustration. “Schools are insensitive to what we go through. My friend just got killed and I’m sitting in class like nothing happened. How am I supposed to do math, calculus and things irrelevant to my situation,” said a high school student.

Another issue among youth is respect.

“Why do kids fight?” Jenkins asked.

“Disrespect.”

“Disrespect is communicated in a number of ways; how people look at you, talk about you, spread rumors, or if a student next to another students answers a question in class they wanted to answer,” Jenkins said.

“It’s the need to fight to maintain your respect. Even if you know you cannot fight, you still get respect because you stood up for yourself,” a high school student reported.

“Being raised in a violent environment prompts you to expect and be prepared for violence,” Jenkins said.

In a break out session a young woman said, “Two of my brother’s friends got shot last week. How am I supposed to deal with this? Who actually cares about us?”

A young man in his pre-teens talked about the after effects of the May 22 2011 North Minneapolis tornado and the trauma it has had on students his age. “I’m kind of disappointed that where I live, months after the tornado, there are still tarps on the roofs and people still have trees in their yards. It looks really violent. If our neighborhoods look violent, like nobody cares, what are we supposed to do?”

During the break out session, students were asked to compile a list of what was working in the community, and what did not work.

The list of things needed to improve the community was much longer than the list of what did work.

The students said the community needs recreation for youth such as more skating rinks, theaters, and arcades. They said youth need mentors to help address and speak about adverse issues and employment.

“Your very presence here speaks volumes to your interest, vision and commitment to a crisis that has existed for more than 25 years,” English said. “We may in fact be the last hope for many youth, boys and girls, but mostly African Americans that live in North Minneapolis,” he said.