Violence, mainly involving guns is a major problems hurting and killing Jacksonville’s teenagers. In late May a group of teenaged girls were recorded in two separate fights on Jacksonville’s Northside. According to local CBS Affiliate, Action News Jax, the videos went viral and resulted in three arrests, due to one of the teens using a bat during the fight.
In January a teenager was killed and another was hurt after a shooting outside the Jacksonville Landing. 16 year-old Khamoi Peterson died. Investigators believe the shooting is linked to another shooting near the same area earlier that month.
In early May an 18 year-old was killed, and his younger sister and cousin were hurt after a drive-by shooting. The shooting happened around 1:30 in the morning while the children were sleeping. There were no other adults in the home at the time of the shooting. Tragic situations like these prompt the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, along with the city and leaders from the Duval County School Board, to work together to steer local young people away from a life of crime and danger, but they say they need help.
“It starts at home,” said Andrew George, the Project Director for the Evening Reporting Center for Juvenile Offenders. “Parents have to do more to be in their children’s lives, but they have to be around to do that,” he said.
That presents a challenge. According a 2016 Census Bureau report, 23% of America’s 73.7 million children live with a single mother. That means roughly 16 million children only have one parent and one income in the home.
In April, 12-year-old Ra-Mya Eunice was shot and killed by a friend during a sleepover. Detectives say the children found the gun in an abandoned home next door. According to the Florida Times Union, Ra’Mya was the second child killed by accidental gunfire in 2017. There were no parents around at the time of the shooting.
With the amount of single parents working, many of them are not able to spend much time with their children, so those kids are not being monitored on the types of crowds they surround themselves with. “That is one of the major problems that leads to youth violence,” said Lakesha Burton, Lieutenant with the Jacksonville Police Athletic League.
“Children between 13 and 18 are extremely impressionable,” she said. “It is a critical time and unfortunately they are swayed to do bad things, because their home environment is so hard to deal with. That’s where we come in to help pick up the pieces,” said Burton.
The Police Athletic League works to build stronger relationships with local teens by giving them positive activities 12 months a year, and reinforcing that people care about them and they always have a choice.
The first Friday of June the organization held “Friday Night Live,” a lock-in for teen boys in Jacksonville’s most violent neighborhoods. The boys stayed overnight with officers, and heard from a host of guests including former NFL player and Jacksonville native Laveranues Coles and Ron Davis. Davis is the father of 17-year-old Jordan Davis, who was killed at a Southside gas station over loud music in 2012. The organization plans to hold a similar event with teen girls later this summer.
DCPS leaders work year round to give students options when it comes to After-School and Summer Care. The more programs being offered, the better the chances the students will become more involved. According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, 251 students, grades six through 12 were arrested on campus during the 2015-2016 school year. Most were for minor offenses like simple battery.
The school with the most amount of arrests was Ed White High School, with 21. Ten arrests were for felony charges including bringing guns and drugs on campus. That includes the arrest of 18-year-old Caleb Givens, who police say brought a gun to school. Due to arrests like that, the school board decided Ed White needed more structure and turned it into a military academy to start during the 2016-2017 school year.
The Duval County School Board is in the middle of the pack when it comes to delinquency in schools. During the 2015-2016 school year, there were four arrests per one-thousand students. Broward county has the same numbers as Duval. Among the larger counties, Hillsborough had the most arrests during the school year at five per one-thousand students. This is according to the National Center for Juvenile Justice.
During the 2011-2012 school year, there were eight arrests at Duval schools. Since then the number arrests have been on a steady decline. According to the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice, one reason for the decrease is due to civil citations for non-violent misdemeanors.
“We have to work harder to get these children to see that there is more out there than gang-banging,” said Tony Wilson, Project Manager at Communities in Schools, a dropout prevention program in Jacksonville.
“I spend more time with these kids than their own parents, and I do everything in my power to make it memorable and make them want to come back,” he said. “There is only one stipulation for my program, students have to go to school every day. You can’t come to my after-school program without spending time in the classroom,” said Wilson.
Jacksonville’s graduation rate is among the top counties in the state, according to numbers by the Florida Department of Education. During the 2015-2016 school year, Duval County’s graduation rate was 78.8%, up two percentage points from the previous year. “Kids are going to school, that’s not the problem, it’s where they go after school that has me worried,” said Wilson.
“I have friends who have beef with other girls and will want me to meet up with them after school gets out to fight,” said Prinessia Laneair, an eighth grader at Eugene Butler Middle School. “I feel pressured to have their back because if I don’t, we won’t be friends anymore, but I’m more afraid of what my mom will do to me if I get in trouble,” she said. Laneair said she is most afraid of not coming home from school because she is shot and killed.
“Every child doesn’t have that parent at home telling them what is right and what is wrong,” said Ciara Winson, Prinessia’s mother. Negative peer pressure plays a significant role in student behavior, according to an article from The National. It shows parents the behaviors they should look out for and how to deal with it. It offers seven tips including encouraging positive friendships, working on open and honest relationships, and getting to know your children’s friends.
In June Jacksonville started installing the ShotSpotter technology in local neighborhoods. The gun detection system alerts police to gunfire, allowing them to pinpoint the location of a gunshot within 82 feet of where it was shot. Denver, which is similar in size and population to Jacksonville, implemented the system in 2015. According to a March report, ShotSpotter has been tied to 100 arrests in Denver of the last two years. Because of its success, the Denver Police Department is expanding its contract into 2018. Burton says she hopes the new technology will work just as well in Jacksonville.
The plan to curb violence with Jacksonville’s young people has a lot of layers. Like the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” In Jacksonville’s village includes parents, educators, city leaders, law enforcement, friends, neighbors and advocates all working together to keep the city’s young people safe.