Near Northwest Neighborhood addresses gun violence among youth

SOUTH BEND, Ind., --With gun violence on the rise in the US--one South Bend neighborhood is addressing gun violence among the community. Tuesday night, community leaders, South Bend Police, activists and residents of the Near Northwest Neighborhood in South Bend held a meeting to address gun violence.

Local activists and police led the panel to listen to community concerns about gun violence. Their hope was to start the conversation before things get out of hand this year, as there is typically an uptick in gun violence in warmer months, while school is out and there is more outdoor activity.

Community organizer, André Northern, says that gun violence has impacted too many people in the Near Northwest Neighborhood.

"It became more and more apparent to me that it was harder for me to find a conversation with neighbors or someone it wasn't affected by the violence in this neighborhood,” said Northern.

Northern listens to a number of complaints from neighbors, from concerns about hearing gunshots and fearing for their safety and children’s safety, to painful stories about losing a loved one to gun violence.

Panelists were asked to list three specific problems that lead to increased gun violence, but the roots of increased gun violence stem from many issues, including easy access to guns for those with an elevated risk of violent crime, lack of public services and programs from police and the community.

Some issues were a result from the pandemic, like a lack of police presence due to staffing and cancellations of summer programming aimed at young people in the community.

But community activist and NNN resident, Linda Raven, says that all of these issues are part of a larger, systemic issue that needs to be addressed.

"if we take these issues in isolation, and treat them in isolation, we will never address the whole problem. It is all integrated and systemic and structural and it goes back to deep historical context that has never been addressed," said Raven.

South Bend Police Department Assistant Chief Dan Skibbins discussed how the department is improving its Group Violence Intervention strategy, which includes an audit of the program’s strengths and flaws.

He also recommended that community members encourage more hire “home-grown” neighbors in the police department to build a better relationship between the community and police.

However, the main focus of the meeting was centered around youth gun violence which accounts for about 30 percent of gun violence, whether a victim or suspect was a juvenile.

Community activist, Claire Ross, says that community members need to actively listen to children in the neighborhood, and that if the family unit is missing, the child should still have support from the community.

Ross and GVI project manager, Isaac Hunt, say that neighbors can intervene by listening to the children.

“Talk to them. See if you can help them. You know, these are our kids you can’t be scared of them,” said Hunt.

According to the South Bend Police Department—juveniles were involved in 30 percent of gun violence in South Bend. And 60 percent of gun violence in the city last year was due to gang or group violence, and the gangs are getting younger with a recent trend of gang members recruiting young teenagers, some as young as 13 years old.

In addition, community members encourage adults to listen and intervene with kids in the community.

While the panelists agree that there is no quick fix to reduce gun violence, they believe that more kids need to be involved in the conversation.

“We’ve got to keep marching on. Who are we going to relay this to when we’re done? I only see Gen Xers and older in this room right now—with exception of this young man right here. We’ve got to expand that conversation,” said Northern.

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