Gun Violence Prevention Is Essential, Especially During Coronavirus

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coronavirus: Group of young people holding coffee in front of van in parking lot

Youth ALIVE!

Teens On Target (TNT) is a leadership development program at Youth ALIVE!, Oakland, Calif.’s anchor agency for violence prevention, intervention and healing. Through TNT, teens from two high schools in the Oakland neighborhoods hardest hit by gun violence teach student-designed violence prevention workshops at middle schools across the city. 

The workshops include modules on gun and gang violence, dating and family violence and avoiding peer pressure. TNT participants become active leaders in Oakland’s quest for peace, testifying before legislatures, informing the public at rallies and forums, and speaking in the media. They are the voice of American youth who face violence on a daily basis.

We asked our young people if they see a connection between the gun violence that plagues  cities like Oakland and the coronavirus that has affected people across the country, but particularly communities of color. Do we still need violence prevention during the coronavirus?

I absolutely think preventing violence is even more relevant now. Some of us live in poverty, and some people will do anything to get what they need in order to survive. People now have a reason to use gun violence in any way to get what they need.

—Kaliyah Thomas, 14, Fremont High School freshman

Preventing violence is especially important at this time because of the lack of resources we have due to COVID-19. Hospital beds are being taken up from people affected by this virus and the constant struggle of having people rushed to the hospital for a gunshot wound caused by a minor disagreement is just not acceptable. Social distancing itself is helping but the stress from the poverty that comes with people losing their jobs also plays a part into the violence.

—Kimberly Higareda, 14, Fremont High School freshman

People that have been shot are fighting for space, since the COVID-19 patients are taking up all the space in the hospitals. I do believe that preventing violence is even more important because there won’t be enough beds and ventilators, and both COVID patients and gunshot victims need these to survive. Also, some violence can be more deadly because of social distancing; for example with someone in a domestic violence relationship: since we’re on lockdown there’s nothing they can do about it.

Endia McCowan, 15, Fremont High School sophomore

In my opinion, preventing violence should always be important but with the coronavirus it’s major because there are already a lot of people getting hurt/dying from the coronavirus so it puts more pressure on nurses and doctors.

—Aujanae Cook, 17, Castlemont High School senior

Preventing violence will always be important any time and any day. Even if they enforce that rule that we are supposed to stay inside — people don’t listen and people may still get in fights or get killed.

Princess Paopao, 15, Castlemont High School sophomore

Violence never solves anything. Things are now limited and people are fighting over basic items, food, a place to live. People think that they need a gun to protect themselves from others. They’re being really carefree about the situation and using it as an excuse to have a gun. They’re being very oblivious to the fact that they shouldn’t have a gun at all. 

—Mari Brandle, 15, Fremont High School sophomore 

When you run out of food, people just don’t care, they just do what they gotta do to get what they want.

—Makayla Davis, 14, Castlemont High School freshman

Losing people during coronavirus

Understanding that the loss of a loved one is something many of our community members have experienced, we asked youth how they view losing a loved one has changed in response to coronavirus.

I would be very unsatisfied if I had to bury my loved ones through a Zoom call.

—Marionna Brandle, 17, Fremont High School junior

It’s messed up that families can’t have a proper funeral for their loved ones because of this pandemic.

—Gregory Hampton, 17, Castlemont High School senior 

I also feel angry because a lotta people are dying because of the coronavirus and can’t have a proper goodbye to the loved one and can’t honor the loved one’s death.

—Xavier Tillery, 14, Castlemont High School freshman 

People are going through things alone and suffering from depression. … to be honest that’s the craziest part of this quarantine, people have to suffer alone. 

—Kamaria Cole, 15, Castlemont High School freshman 

That really sucks to not be at a person’s funeral — someone you really care about and you can’t even see them.

—Nyssa Polk, 17, Castlemont High School senior

This is all even worse that we can’t hug and try to comfort each other. We will and can get through all of this but it just takes time and it might not be easy but we will get there. It’s important for us to all stay calm because we will all be okay if we do everything we’re told. We can’t have the number of deaths getting larger and larger.

—Mariah Jenkins, 15, Castlemont High School freshman 

Not only having to plan a funeral, but your family not being able to gather together to show love and support to one another during that time is also very unbearable and not an easy thing to manage.

Janique Saunders, 16, Castlemont High School junior 

Why we need violence prevention

The California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program funds violence prevention organizations and programs around the state. We asked youth why these programs, like Youth ALIVE! and Richmond’s Office of Neighborhood Safety are so essential to preventing violence.

Many kids from the start are set up for failure by the system. They lose hope of everything and begin feeling depressed and a bunch of mixed emotions. To top that off, most of these younger people have probably never witnessed anyone succeed in their communities as there are no doctors, lawyers and so on. From there, they feel as if they have no choice in life. These programs help younger people get on the correct pathway of life. They help young people get employed and overall just show them love and make them feel like they are just as important and needed as anyone else.

—Miklo Santiago, 14, Fremont High School freshman

We should have these programs in our community because we need to stop the violence. We need to help young people stay outta trouble and get them jobs so they don’t end up on the streets killing people, selling drugs, or having themselves get killed. 

—Princess Paopao, 15, Castlemont High School sophomore

These programs target kids who are more likely to commit gun violence in hopes they turn their life around for them to see a brighter future. If there were more programs like this we would have less violence in our communities.

—Peter Cross, 15, Fremont High School sophomore 

We should be able to live in a city where there’s no death by homicide. It’s a cycle that needs to be broken and it starts by teaching and instilling life lessons into youth. Having a positive role model makes a huge difference in a young person’s life because not only do they have someone to show them the correct ways of life, but they have someone there that they can rely on, build a relationship with and someone who can help provide anything that they might not have, such as resources, love or even support. 

—Janique Saunders, 16, Castlemont High School junior

These programs help youngsters learn that they are smart, brilliant and that they matter in this world. That they are loved and that they can change. These men are helping them learn that whatever you want to be, you can do it, and not to doubt themselves.

—Kaliyah Thomas, 14, Fremont High School freshman

Some programs work with the people who are doing the crime while we at Teens on Target work with the students before they get into the streets.

—Jaymes Fitzpatrick, 17, Castlemont High School senior

Gun violence can be prevented in many ways. One is helping young people by giving them opportunities and by treating all of them with love, which is one of the main things people committing violence need.

—Jesus Padilla-Masedonio, 14, Fremont High School freshman

They’re trying to make them a better person and teach them how to not be so reckless and not be homeless.

—Edwin Emerson, 14, Fremont High School freshman 

They deal with the most violent people before they proceed to help others because they believe that if they help the violent people first then they can have an impact on others.

Marionna Brandle, 17, Fremont High School junior 

People want us teens and kids to be able to just live our lives without having to fear our lives being taken away from us. They want us to be able to live in a city where there aren’t lives being taken because of gun violence. A lot of systems failed us over time, which affects a lot of kids and their futures today; a lot of kids aren’t worried about grades, college or even graduating. There are also a lack of role models in our own neighborhoods. We can be easily influenced by what we see here every day rather than what we see once in a while on a TV screen.

Mariah Jenkins, 15, Castlemont High School freshman

The children that grew up in these neighborhoods turned to the streets because all they see in their neighborhoods are drug dealers and gang violence. They did not have any positive role models such as doctors, lawyers, high school graduates, etc. The only choice they had was to do what they know best and that is to run the streets.

—Seven Curley, 16, Fremont High School senior 

Positive role models

Mentoring young people is a key part of Youth ALIVE!’s programs like Teens on Target and Pathways. We asked our youth why this mentorship is so essential.

A good positive role model transforms a life. They have a chance to show people that a legal job can also make them money, that they don’t have to sell drugs to keep income coming into the home.

—Kimberly Higareda, 14, Fremont High School freshman

Having a positive role model makes a difference because to me it will prevent the youth from going down the wrong path. It can also make a difference by teaching the youth that every situation doesn’t need violence or vengeance. 

—Kamaria Cole, 15, Castlemont High School, freshman

When a young person has a positive role model in their life they can be very successful in school activities and focus on graduating.

Kamora Jackson, 15, Castlemont High School, freshman

By giving someone a job it makes it easier for them to have the proper resources. Meaning that they don’t have to rely on stealing, selling drugs or anything like that in order to get money to survive. By helping others and by having good role models you can change a community. Also, it shows that people care and want to change things and are actually trying to do so. 

—Athziri Ortega, 14, Fremont High School freshman

Having a role model can make a young person’s life different by simply showing them a different lifestyle. It also creates hope and faith in them to become something better than what they’ve grown up around. 

—Jasin Saunders, 17, Castlemont High School senior

Many young kids are so impressionable. They are looking to see who they want to be. They are basically figuring themselves out and if they start looking up to someone, they will start picking things up from them.

—Jackie Molina, 17, Leadership Public Schools junior 

They want to give those young men growth mindsets so they won’t end up going to prison or worse: dead. Those young ones grew up in broken homes. Some dealt with depression and trauma. To them success is just getting out the “hood.” In their heads they’re not thinking about going to college much less graduating high school. They don’t know what to do to be a doctor or lawyer because that’s not the type of people they see. To them their only resource is selling drugs, robbing people and/or most likely becoming a gang member. A young person having a positive role model in their life helps them realize that there’s more to this world than just violence. For me personally, it helps me by telling me that if they can do it so can I. That there are people in this world who want to make a change and that want to see the good in everyone. 

—Sierra Taylor, 14, Castlemont High School freshman

Youth from Youth ALIVE!’s Teens on Target program in Oakland, Calif., are the writers. Gabriel Garcia, the policy and advocacy manager of Youth ALIVE! curated their responses.

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