Mourning youth we have lost and unlearning the culture of violence

I know that I join all of Minneapolis in mourning the terrible losses of three young people our city in the past weeks. Quantell Braxton (age 14), Ray’Jon Gomez (age 13) and Juwon Osborne (age 16) were murdered by people wielding guns. Our deepest sympathies go out to their family, friends and communities. With their whole lives yet ahead of them, they should not have died.

In the wake of these events, police and school resource officers are reaching out to youth and community members to listen, counsel and educate. Police officers are also actively enforcing curfew to help keep youth safe. Anyone with information about these crimes or other violent acts, including ones that they are afraid may be committed, should call (612) 692-TIPS (8477) immediately.

While Minneapolis Police do their jobs and work to solve the murders of Quantell, Rae’Jon and Jawon, we must all ask ourselves one extremely important question: Who is arming our kids? Where are the guns coming from that are hurting our communities and injuring and killing our residents? And who is putting them in the hands of our children?

One of the four goals of the Blueprint for Action: Preventing Youth Violence in Minneapolis is to “Unlearn the culture of violence in our community.” Inevitably, young people will disagree with each other, but it is our goal that young people inMinneapolis learn how to defuse violence and walk away from it with their heads held high. Of course, we know that disagreements among young people sometimes turn into fights — but when a gun gets in the mix of those fights, everything changes for the worse, often in one terrible instant.

It is the responsibility of all of us to make sure that our children are not armed. It is the responsibility of all of us to help our children make the best choices they can about where and with whom they are spending their time. And it is the responsibility of all of us to hold up our youth who are headed in the right direction and the strong, loving communities that support them.

Fortunately, we already know how to do this work: it’s central to our youth-violence prevention efforts and the Blueprint that unifies, frames and coordinates it. 

Even in this difficult time, I’m encouraged by some promising, upstream interventions taking place this year that are helping our youth and our communities unlearn the culture of violence. I’d like to share a few examples with you: 

  • Summer 612, made possible with the support of the Minneapolis Foundation, is directly engaging 1,000Minneapolis youth ages 10–17 with youth-led micro-grant projects in documentary film, visual arts, basketball and performance. The youths’ projects are designed to allow them to reflect on the culture of violence and how we can unlearn it. In addition, youth are connected to professionals in different industries who help them develop unique job skills while interacting with professionals in a specific industry. These talented youth unveiled their projects at a Summer 612 showcase on September 22 that drew over 200 people to the Central Library. 
  • The North 4 Project works with youth ages 14-21 who live in the four North Minneapolisneighborhoods most affected by crime. It provides intensive job-readiness training, subsidized work opportunities and on-going case management to ensure that participants remain focused on securing permanent employment. North 4 will continue through May 2012, thanks to the efforts of Representative Keith Ellison. 
  • Bike Cops for Kids expanded this year to eight officers on the North Side, Northeast Minneapolis and in the Phillips, Lyndale, Central and CARAG neighborhoods ofS outh Minneapolis. With support from the Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, these bike-riding police officers, who serve as school resource officers during the school year, spend the summer connecting kids to trusted adults once child at a time, building on their existing relationships and sparking new ones.
  • School Resource Officers work tirelessly to ensure the well-being of students, staff and visitors in the Minneapolis Public Schools. They are there during times of tragedy to listen, counsel and connect youth quickly to needed services. 

Working together, this community has done a lot to keep our children safe: because of our work, the number of youth suspects in violent crime has declined by 66 percent since 2008. I thank you for that work, but we have more to do. I’m asking every to commit or recommit today to connecting our youth to trusted adults, intervening at the first sign that our youth are at risk of violence, restoring those who have gone down the wrong path and unlearning the culture of violence in our community. Working together, even — or especially — when we are in mourning, we can do this.

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