Op-Ed

Stopping teen shootings is a community-wide responsibility

Putney
Putney

I refuse to live in a community where an innocent 6-year-old child playing outside his home is shot to death by young thugs allegedly settling a beef that began on Facebook. Assistant Director Freddie Ramirez, of the Miami-Dade Police, says the shooters had been “punkin’ each other” on FB.

So the answer to being insulted on social media is to grab your gun and unleash a fusillade of bullets? In broad daylight? Absurd. Frightening. Tragic. Unspeakably sad.

And totally unacceptable.

Two more black teenagers were shot and killed late last week. One was a 14-year-old who, with a friend, was “playing” with a gun. Then there was the case of a 13-year-old who was shot while taking part in a car jacking.

Where is the outrage over this tsunami of teen gun violence? True, the mostly black neighborhoods where the young victims live have been marching and vowing to put an end to the carnage. But there’s been mainly silence from white neighborhoods.

Yes, such shootings aren’t happening there, but we’re talking about children and teens who are the same as our children. They share the same dreams and aspirations, but black inner-city kids start out at a disadvantage because they’re most often raised by a single mom in poverty in a crime-ridden neighborhood with poor-to-mediocre schools. These are kids who should be worrying about their homework assignments or making the team or going out on a date. Instead, they’re stalking and shooting their enemies over social-media slights, real and imagined. And little victims like King Carter become collateral damage.

Ten years ago, Sherdavia Jenkins, only 9, died from a stray bullet fired by gang bangers fighting over drug turf as she sat on the stoop of her home in the Pork ‘n’ Beans project. Nineteen years ago, little Rickia Issac, 5 years old, was killed by a stray bullet as she walked home in Liberty City from the Martin Luther King Day parade. The list goes on and on.

“We’ve got to do something to stop this,” says the Rev. Jerome Starling, who created the Rickia Isaac Foundation. “I hear all these people talking, but It’s not enough to simply say it’s terrible. We need to take action.”

Rev. Starling is right. Our community needs a comprehensive action plan, a multi-pronged strategy to prevent kids from turning to guns and gangs. Miami-Dade School Superintendent Alberto Carvalho, who visits every shooting scene where a child is killed and consoles grieving families, says his teachers, principals and counselors already look for troubled students and try to intervene early. The faith-based community has stepped forward, too, although violent teens worship at the altar of money, guns and drugs. They’re nihilists. We must give them something to believe in — themselves.

The Rev. Carl Johnson of the 93rd Street Community Baptist Church says he recently saw a young man in a hoodie casing out cars to break into near his church. The pastor says he called out to the young man — not in anger — and coaxed him into the church where they prayed for him and assured him that his life had meaning and worth. Pastor Johnson, not a rich man, gave him $40 and sent him on his way. “When he left his hoodie was down,” says the pastor, “and he had a a little smile on his face.” With such small victories the larger battle can be won.

One-on-one help is what’s needed — responsible adults listening to a young person’s problems, suggesting ways to solve them. Mentoring, tutoring, teaching. Big Brothers/Big Sisters does it every day.

Rotary Clubs provide encouragement and scholarships. The Children’s Trust has some excellent programs. Churches adopt schools, and so do some businesses. We need more of that.

Several years ago the late Georgia Jones Ayers, who ran an alternative school for troubled kids in Liberty City, took me on a tour of the Liberty Square Housing Project. Georgia, who was fearless, saw a teen-anger saunter past with his pants falling down below his rear end. “Young man,” she called out sternly, “pull up your pants. You’re embarrassing yourself and our community.” Sheepishly, the boy pulled up his trousers.

Georgia knew that it does take a village and was willing to do her part. We all must.

On Monday in Miami Gardens, former President Bill Clinton bemoaned the epidemic of gun violence in Miami and elsewhere and saluted the resolve of Sybrina Fulton and other mothers of murdered children. “More power to you,” the president said. “But here’s the real question: What are we going to do about it?”

Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, according to an adviser, will soon announce a program whereby cops will be assigned to mentor and help a troubled kid, one-on-one.

What a good idea, the kind that will help us build a safer, saner community. Where 6-year-olds are not shot to death.

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