Finally, a Miami-Dade coalition to battle youth gun violence

Miami Herald Editorial Board

The latest victim was Jada, 8. Here family and friends gathered outside Ryder Trauma Center where she died.
The latest victim was Jada, 8. Here family and friends gathered outside Ryder Trauma Center where she died. MIAMI HERALD

Here are two perplexing questions:

Can a Miami-Dade child who will turn to violence as a teen be identified as early as elementary school? And should that knowledge, which borders on profiling, be used to help stave off the violence that is destroying the lives of scores of Miami-Dade children and teens? In other words, actually stop violence before it happens by finding and helping at-risk kids before the bullets do.

The answer is yes, even though the master plan a local coalition has come up with is likely to raise some eyebrows. What’s important is that, finally, someone is doing something substantive instead of just lamenting the death of yet another child.

Reacting to the gun violence epidemic ending young lives, the coalition of government and law enforcement agencies, local nonprofits, and business and education groups, including the Miami-Dade public school district, this week unveiled its novel idea: using data to identify and help at-risk children before they fall into a cycle of violence and kill or are killed.

The coalition, Together for Children, deserves praise. They have zeroed in on 20 zip codes where the majority of violent crimes impacting children have occurred. Out of the children who attend school in these zip codes, the coalition has identified roughly 2,000 students at high risk of getting caught up in the whirlwind of violence. The goal is to prevent that.

Needless to say, such profiling of children will raise concern. Will they be stigmatized in the school system?

We think the risk is necessary. Miami-Dade needs to do so something to stop these youth killings. Nothing else has worked. In the last few weeks, a fourth-grader and two teenagers have been shot and killed.

Within the targeted zip codes, some in Miami-Dade’s poorest and most dangerous neighborhoods, elementary school students have already been killed, some caught in the crossfire. And for the older kids, the risk of becoming either perpetrators or victims is even greater within those zip code boundaries.

The coalition is armed with telling data. It made its determinations based on six benchmarks it found were often associated with youth violence: poor school attendance, behavioral issues, low standardized test scores in math and reading as well as math and reading classroom skills that lag behind grade level.

And this promise is very important. The school district will keep the identities of the 2,000 targeted students strictly confidential. So is this prevention or profiling? Or Big Brother at work? Or separating the safe from the at-risk? In all probability, the identified kids will likely be poor, mainly African American and Hispanic because those are the ones getting killed.

The goal, Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho told the Miami Herald, is “narrowing the scope of the challenge from a school system of 360,000 kids down to a manageable number.” That makes sense; help in finding the troubled kid in the haystack of students.

While the coalition has yet to collect community feedback, there are likely to be more questions about privacy and labeling of some students. That’s a legitimate concern.

Admittedly, this is a radical move, but the school district and government agencies already have tried a number of approaches to curb the gun deaths of Miami-Dade youngsters with little success.

So let’s embrace this rescue plan, warts and all.