In August 2013, just days before the new school year began, 12-year-old Tequila Forshee was killed when a cascade of bullets crashed through her grandmother’s home. Tequila was sitting on the floor having her hair styled in anticipation of returning to school. She did nothing to deserve such a fate. Sadly, there have been many other children and adolescents that have perished as a result of senseless violence. Many were innocent victims that were not intended targets of perpetrators, only collateral damage in the pursuit of those marked for execution. Regardless of the intent, when we lose a child to violence we grieve what was and what could have been.
All too often, these heinous events are witnessed by family, friends and other members of the community. Bearing witness to such carnage can result in the development of psychological trauma, which can significantly impact the well-being of those exposed. Youth are particularly vulnerable to the deleterious psychological, emotional and behavioral outcomes of violence, especially through repeated exposure. Residents of Liberty City, Miami Gardens, Opa-locka, Homestead and Overtown have suffered more than their share of heartbreak over violent losses. These incidents often go unreported to law enforcement.
Will we ever be able to eradicate the scourge of violence from our society? Probably not, but by speaking out, organizing resources and taking action, we can curb the generational cycle of violence that has deep roots within our community. This outcome can only be accomplished if we recognize and accept that violence prevention is everyone’s business.
We must end the “code of silence” that exists in communities that are beset by criminal activity. Silence only serves to protect those perpetrating said incidents and ensures that others will be victimized in the future. Understandably, being fearful for one’s safety for reporting individuals that have committed such acts is a legitimate concern. However, there are anonymous mechanisms in place to contact law enforcement that should minimize such concerns. Of course, there is no guarantee of one’s safety should one have the courage to speak up. The only guarantee we have is that if we don’t report those responsible for senseless violence, we will continue to hold funerals for our youth.
As members of the community, we have a moral obligation and responsibility to see that our youth reach adulthood physically and psychologically intact, so they may lead healthy, peaceful and successful lives. This can best be accomplished by exposing our youth to a variety of school and community-based programs, curricula, services and activities that build protective skills and prevent violence.
We must have a proactive, highly trained and appropriately staffed law enforcement community. We also need to enlist the support of the faith-based community and adult mentors to guide our youth in a positive direction. Lastly, the availability and affordability of quality mental health services for our at-risk youth is paramount. Only by working together, can we expand the safety net surrounding our youth and bring about positive and enduring change.
Frank J. Zenere, school psychologist/crisis team member, Miami-Dade County Public Schools