Bridgeport And New Haven Take Action On Youth Gun Violence | Connecticut Public Radio

Bridgeport And New Haven Take Action On Youth Gun Violence

Feb 7, 2019

In the wake of a series of shootings involving teen shooters and victims, two Connecticut cities are outlining plans to address youth gun violence. 

New Haven's school-based intervention program called YouthStat held an emergency meeting Thursday after a rash of shootings over the past two weeks - including at least three within an hour on Tuesday night.

Mayor Toni Harp said it appears that at least three groups were involved in the incidents -- and that the city is reaching out to their members to caution them against further action.

"It seemed as if there was a beef between the group called G and the group they call the Exit 8 group and then there’s another one," she told Connecticut Public Radio." We’re going out, we’re making calls to those people letting them know, one, we know who you are. We know that you’re disturbed about this, but because we’re watching you we would advise you not to act."

YouthStat seeks to reduce youth involvement with the criminal justice system - and improve outcomes for kids. Its partners include the city's youth department, board of education, parents, and mental health professionals.

Meanwhile, also Thursday, addressing youth gun violence in Bridgeport was top of mind for lawmakers, law enforcement, community organizers, and family members who’ve been directly affected.

Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim’s conference room was full of adults: people who work with youth in and out of prison, police officers who’ve arrested teens for carrying or shooting a gun, lawmakers who want to keep kids from harming themselves with guns, parents and family members who’ve had to bury their loved ones.

But there weren’t any youth to share their experiences.

“They are the classmates, they are the peers, they are the siblings of the offenders or the alleged offenders and the victims,” said Shamare Holmes, an executive coordinator with Bridgeport-based mentoring program, C.H.A.M.P. “We need to hear it firsthand from them.”

Holmes noted that this wasn’t the first forum she’s been to that hasn’t included youth. The Bridgeport native says times and attitudes have changed compared to when she grew up in the city.

“What sticks out the most is that there are so many guns available but how easily accessible they are,” said Holmes. “In this generation you don’t have a lot of youth to talk about it openly but indirectly they will drop some gems where as adults, as service providers, as public safety officials, we can catch onto those hints and start addressing some of the problem that the youth do have.”

A loophole within a current law keeps law enforcement from charging 16-and-17-year-olds caught carrying firearms. It’s an issue that many during the closed meeting said doesn’t prevent violence or hold those teens accountable amidst concerns of racial profiling and over-incarcerating youth of color.

State Senator Dennis Bradley said attention needs to be paid to a more invisible part of the problem. “I think the attention on of a lot of these forums obviously are to address what’s going on with the victims and the children, the people who were in possession of these firearms,” said Bradley, who’s also an attorney. “What we’re not seeing is anyone being prosecuted in terms of selling these firearms. Here we are, as opposed to focusing on the sellers, we’re once again focusing on our community.”

Many of the community organizations present expressed being strapped for funding and enough personnel to run their programming and outreach efforts.

Clinton Howell, 12, was shot and killed December in Bridgeport, and on Tuesday, Sujata Lee Edwards, a mother of two teenagers was shot and killed.

Their families were in the room and spoke during the private gathering.

Ganim, who’s met with the families, said that more needs to be address the issue before another life is lost. He emphasized a desire for everyone present to continue to learn from each other and consistently work together.

The meeting didn’t end with concrete solutions but ideas included providing more resources to prevention and intervention programs, improving laws, and giving teens a seat at the table.