A recent report by The Associated Press showed that younger teens in smaller cities are at a growing risk of being shot. While East St. Louis was not included in the study, the report’s findings ring true with those living with youth violence.
The story is familiar: Poverty, poor education and lack of opportunity drive youngsters to the drug trade.
“It’s all about dealing and selling drugs. These are the individuals who are packing the guns,” said the Rev. Norma Patterson, a community leader. “They are not like the teenagers who used to fight with their fists over tennis shoes or not liking each other. It’s about who’s selling the most drugs and who owes who.”
Here, too, the shooters are younger.
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East St. Louis Police Chief Michael Hubbard said young men used to do the shooting. Now the shooters are young teens. He also blamed the ready availability of guns, both legally and illegally.
Police Detective Sgt. Gilda Johnson said guns are available to kids for the asking.
“Individuals who are carrying guns feel powerful. They feel they are legitimately successful. If they shoot someone, it makes them feel better. They are shooting in broad daylight now. Years ago, the shootings occurred at night,” Johnson said.
Add to the mix children raising children without fathers, concentrating the poor in housing projects and youngsters spending hours of their lives numbing themselves by shooting at screens. It’s an ugly, lethal mix.
While you can’t hand violent teens a functioning set of parents, you can promote effective, regional law enforcement. You can also expect government institutions to deliver a quality education and healthy job climate.
If the national report makes one thing clear, it is that the problem won’t stay contained to a housing project or even a certain type of city. Have guns, will travel.