Miami-Dade draws up plans to keep kids safe from gun violence

It has been almost three weeks since 6-year-old King Carter was killed by a stray bullet in a shootout between teens. The community has mourned, marched and buried the first-grader in a tiny white casket.

Now, plans are forming to prevent another tragedy.

In community centers, halls of government and churches, some possibilities have emerged: It’s going to take mentors and after-school programs, policing and prosecution, parental involvement and community collaboration to solve the deep-rooted problems that cost young people their lives.

“It’s a public outcry, and people are simply tired,” said Tawana Akins, King’s aunt and a fourth-grade teacher at Holmes Elementary at a meeting meant to strategize ideas Sunday in Liberty City.

Violence against young people is a harrowing reality in Miami-Dade County. About 35 kids and teens are killed every year, according to a decade of data provided by the medical examiner’s office. So far this year, about one young person a week has been murdered in Miami-Dade.

But the death of little King Carter, killed on a Saturday afternoon as he went to buy candy, has galvanized the community.

At a Miami-Dade County school board meeting Wednesday, district leaders debated their role in solving the issue. The key, stressed by board members such as Marta Pérez Wurtz, will be collaboration with the dozens of organizations and initiatives already on the ground.

“It cannot just be us in our silo,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who has been outspoken about how violence impacts kids. “Before we do the right thing, we have to sit at the same table.”

That is already starting to happen. At Wednesday’s meeting, Saif Y. Ishoof, vice president of engagement at Florida International University, announced a partnership among local institutions of higher learning to research local problems and provide mentors. The six institutions — including the University of Miami, Miami Dade College, Barry University and others — plan to begin meeting in the coming weeks.

“We are leaning into this,” Ishoof said. “This is not another point of talk.”

Board Member Raquel Regalado pushed for legal solutions, calling for laws to protect witnesses and punish those who use guns near schools.

“Unfortunately, when we go to Tallahassee and talk about the issues, other areas are not seeing the violence we are seeing. So this is not a priority,” Regalado said.

Legal protection is an issue that Tangela Sears, founder of Parents of Murdered Kids, has pushed in Tallahassee to no avail. A bill to protect witnesses has stalled and faced opposition from open government advocates.

The school system is far from alone in searching for solutions.

On Thursday, the county’s Community Relations Board will for a second time hear suggestions from young people about what can be done to make things better.

“What we are trying to do is give young people a chance to be heard,” said Amy Carswell, director of the Miami-Dade County Community Relations Board.

Thursday’s meeting, which will be held at 6:30 p.m. at West Perrine Park, 10301 SW 170th Terr., is the second in a series of four meetings to get teen opinions. The series has been dubbed, “How to stop the shootings.”

At the kickoff meeting last month, held at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center, 11-year-old Aziz Muhammad cried as he talked about community violence.

“Our children are dying because they need help,” he said, choking back tears.

Carswell said all of the suggestions in the series will be compiled into a report that will be presented to the county commission. Others have already come up with a list of action items.

At Sunday’s meeting in Liberty City, Akins, along with Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, Superintendent Carvalho, Miami-Dade Police Department assistant director Alfredo Ramirez and other community members, came up with several ideas: a campaign to teach parents how to monitor their children’s social media; keeping schools open later and possibly providing transportation home; mental health services; and a police mentoring program for at-risk children.

“The children can’t play and the elderly cannot even enjoy the rest of their lives,” Akins said. “They are afraid to sit on their porches. Who will rise up and protect our citizens from living in these horrible conditions?”