Sunday, March 30, 2003

Group reaches out to teens to halt gun violence

Ideas sought at Avondale session

By Sheila McLaughlin
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Representatives from Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center and African-American firefighters and police officers reached out to teens in one of the city's most violent neighborhoods Saturday in an effort to stop gun violence.

2000: 71 cases; 67 males and four females; 54 African-Americans.
2001: 141 cases; 136 males and five females; 114 African-Americans.
2002: 151 cases; 147 males and four females; 127 African-Americans.
A group of about 150 teens, some youngsters as young as 5, parents and others gathered at Peace Baptist Church on Avondale's Rockdale Avenue for a two-hour program called "Stop the Funerals."

It was aimed at opening a dialog with teens and soliciting their ideas.

"We need to find out what it is we can do as teach them some other way instead of using a gun," said Willie Jones, a Cincinnati firefighter who also is coordinator for the hospital's Youth Injury Prevention Team.

"We need to hear more of where they are at, where they are coming from."

The event touched off with a jarring scenario in which a 19-year-old jumped up in the middle of the crowd, brandished the pistol at a small group, yelling and threatening to shoot them. Meant to jolt the audience into reality, it did just that. Several youngsters started to run from the sanctuary and an adolescent girl fell to the floor crying hysterically.

The message from teens who spoke out Saturday was tinged with a sense of despair.

Some blamed escalating violence on a lack of parenting, and said churches needed to offer more activities to keep kids off the streets and on the right track.

"I don't know what can be done," said 17-year-old Jerritt Hayes, of Avondale. "You can say a few words to get someone to put their gun down, but another person is picking one up. As you take one away, another one is coming. I don't see no way to stop it."

Scotty Johnson, president of the Sentinels Police Association, composed mainly of African-American Cincinnati officers, said police alone cannot stop the violence. He stressed that the teens must take responsibility to bring it to an end.

Kevin Hillman, 16, a Roger Bacon junior from the North Avondale area, felt it was important to be there Saturday. He was concerned that the shootings, the majority of which are black-on-black crime, were unjustly painting African-American males in a bad light.

Jones, who grew up in Avondale and is now raising his own family there, began planning the teen summit after seeing statistics that showed a startling spike in the number of gunshot wounds being treated in the emergency room at University Hospital. The hospital routinely treats gunshot victims age 16 and up, Jones said. The majority of victims were African-Americans.

Saturday's session was the first of three programs. A second likely will be held outside in summer on a neighborhood street, where hospital staff and the others will teach conflict resolution skills, Jones said.


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