Elected leaders and law-enforcement officials from across Miami-Dade County convened a Joint Roundtable on Youth Safety last week, assembled in the wake of several recent tragedies involving guns and child victims, both nationally and locally. Among these were the senseless shootings of Miami teenagers Bryan Herrera and Aaron Willis, bright young students guilty of nothing more that riding their bikes when shot without reason or provocation.
Our aim is to ensure that this community does everything possible to protect our most precious asset — young people like Bryan and Aaron — not only in their classrooms but also in their neighborhoods and local parks. These places should be safe havens for our children. Following the heinous acts of a few, we must redouble our efforts to fortify our community’s public spaces, because no parent should ever have to second-guess their decision to let their child bike to a friend’s house, walk home from school, or play ball at the local park.
The first roundtable meeting included a frank exchange of ideas among the participants, with many stating that our overriding focus must be on safeguarding our schools. While school safety remains vital, statistics tell us that our schools are generally safe and that tragedies like the one at Sandy Hook Elementary are the exception, not the rule. In Miami-Dade County’s public schools, more than 40 students’ lives were cut short by violent acts in the last four and a half years; only one of those was on school grounds.
So, while we will continue to improve school safety, we must also take a holistic, community-wide approach to our mission. In the coming weeks, the Youth Safety Roundtable will bring together four distinct working groups to assess what we are doing right to keep our kids safe in and out of the classroom; identify those areas where we are coming up short; and chart a clear path forward. That path must include a common-sense approach to gun control and gun responsibility.
The working groups will include diverse local stakeholders: community leaders, educators, law-enforcement officials, mental-health specialists, social-service professionals, and faith-based leaders. The broad perspectives and expertise these parties bring to the table will help us answer the tough questions that recent tragedies have forced all of us to ask ourselves.
What are we currently doing to safeguard our children at our schools, at our parks, and in our neighborhoods?
How can we improve?
Are we giving our most vulnerable youths proper support?
And how can we engage the broader community in this effort?
The answers to these questions and others will form the guidelines for safeguarding our young for the long term — a working document that we will revisit regularly for comprehensive updates and concrete actions. The Joint Roundtable on Youth Safety will not be truly effective if it only remains a priority for a few months. Our children deserve better from us; we must be vigilant and keep this issue squarely in the forefront for years to come. While the memories of recent tragedies may fade with time, the possibility of future tragedies will not.
Ultimately, the success of our efforts to address this community-wide issue will take true community-wide buy in, with each and every resident taking personal responsibility for the safety and well-being of our young people. We all have a stake in this. If we are successful in keeping our children safe, we will be successful in keeping our entire community safe.
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos A. Gimenez and Schools Superintendent Alberto M. Carvalho are co-chairs of the Joint Roundtable on Youth Safety.