- Faith & Family
Gun violence claims lives of 99 youth
An estimated 40 police chiefs and 50 mayors from across South Florida met last week to discuss a youth safety community action plan that they hope will bring an immediate halt to the violence that has taken the joy out of going to school, replacing it with fear. According to a recent report from the County’s medical examiner, between 2009 and 2012, 99 youth were victims of homicide in Miami-Dade County [M-DC] — three times the number of similar deaths in Broward County. And close to 50 percent of those killed in M-DC were students in public schools.
M-DC Public Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho has attended the funeral, viewing and burial of every child killed or has visited them in the hospital. He says he stopped counting the burials at 44.
“I am tired of burying children — there’s just too much pain and grief,” he said. “Schools are supposed to be like synagogues, churches and temples. There are supposed to be places of peace where children can learn and feel safe. But that’s not the case today. We must extend the envelope of safety beyond our school grounds and we have to do it now.”
William Aristide, principal of Booker T. Washington Senior High School says that when he was assigned to the school three years ago, he noticed a strange phenomenon. Now he says he “gets it.”
“We had children hanging around on the school grounds until 8 or 9 p.m. almost every day,” he said. “When I asked some of my staff what was going on they told me that school was the only place where the children felt safe.”
Aristide has helped his students and staff deal with two shooting during this school year alone. In January, Aaron Willis, 14, was shot in Wynwood while riding his bike home leaving him paralyzed. And most recently, another Booker T. student, Juan Videa, 17, was heading towards his bus stop in Bay Vista Park when someone fired off more than 20 rounds at him. Miraculously, he survived his injuries.
“You want to leave your work at the office but with the threat of more shootings always present, there’s no way I can do that,” Aristide added. “Once or twice a year I hear that one of my students has been shot. Somehow we’ve got to get away from this culture of violence.”
Has violence become a new way of life for our kids?
M-DC Mayor Carlos Gimenez listened carefully to the presenters during the roundtable meeting and believes that the recommendations for the new action plan could make an immediate impact and reduce the shootings that are plaguing our youth.
“There is no magic wand and there are no quick fixes because this is such a complex issue,” he said. “But if we start with our playgrounds and the places where youth gather before and after school, we can begin to break this cycle of violence. The fact that so many mayors and police chiefs have gathered today shows that we are willing to work together. The time of being reactive has long since passed. Today we must be proactive in our approach. We have a solid road map. The key is how quickly and efficiently we implement it.”
Recommendations addressed three key areas: in-school safety that calls for greater police presence and visibility in schools; out-of school safety that includes truancy sweeps, work stations at highly-frequented parks, particularly during large events or gatherings; and youth services that would increase students’ access to behavioral and mental health services and referrals.
Ed Harris, a member of the Board of County Commissioners Community Advocacy Committee, says what we are facing is a human relations issue.
“How we get along and treat one another is the issue at hand,” he said. “If we help our youth learn how to communicate better, we can show them that there are alternatives to resolving conflicts that do not lead to violence.”
M-DC Police Director J.D. Patterson says we must stop promoting the message that there is no hope.
“Shootings get publicized by the media but they aren’t a daily occurrence,” he said. “We have to maintain faith in God, because good things are still happening and are happening often in our schools and our neighborhoods. We need to target those who are committing the crimes and realize that many of them are coming from some other community. We’re still trying to determine if the shootings are a localized problem or if it’s an external problem. Either way, we need parents and other adults to remain hopeful and to get more involved.”
Gale Nelson, senior vice president Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Miami says poverty plays a key role in the problems facing youth and families.
“We have to shine the light on the needs of our communities,” he said. “Kids need to know that we still believe in the power of potential. Our agency has former gang leaders that have turned their lives around because someone showed them that they mattered; someone showed them that we cared about them. We have to teach our youth that while they may need help, they can make it.”
“I am encouraged by what I heard today and think we’re on the right path,” said Michael Nozile, executive director, Gang Alternative, Miami. “But to really curb this violence, we’re going to need the input of community-based organizations and faith-based groups. They have the pulse of the community. Programs like music, art and sports have been cut or eliminated — what’s left for our kids to do that’s safe, healthy and fun?”
By D. Kevin McNeir