Excerpts from the November 14, 2015 discussion Not Another One! Police and Teens Finding Ways to Work Together to Combat Gun Violence.
Teen: How much of the gun violence problem is caused by teenagers?
Carl Filler: We don’t know exactly how much because we don’t always know who commits a crime in the city of St. Louis unfortunately, however a large number of crimes, almost half of them, are committed by individuals under the age of 25, not all of those are teenagers but we do know unfortunately that young people in the city of St. Louis do have access to guns and that is a significant problem.
Lt. Col. Ronnie Robinson: As far as how we are trying to deter juvenile crime and teenagers being involved in criminal activity, we are working with the Juvenile System and the Department of Justice and with Judge Edwards and the Juvenile Courts to decrease incarceration of juveniles and housing them and instead we are trying to educate them and we have a school partnering with St. Louis Public Schools so instead of incarceration they are going to school.
Criminal activity amongst teenagers in the city is at a very high rate and unfortunately they do have access to illegal weapons.
Teen: How much gun violence is a problem caused by a lack of education?
Lt. Col. Ronnie Robinson: We consistently see individuals that are involved in gun violence are lacking as far as education and the drop out rate is tremendous among individuals that are using weapons to commit criminal acts. So its consistent. Education is a big factor in the success of kids not being involved in criminal activity. There is definitely a relationship between not being educated and gun violence.
Chief Prosecutor Rachel Smith: I agree with the Colonel. The lack of education is heartbreaking. We see everyday at the Circuit Attorney’s Office moms and dads of young men, mostly, young men under the age of 20 who have been killed. And sometimes those people will be armed themselves. Sometimes the mother will say I asked him not to carry, I told him not to carry and others will say he had to carry.
Sadly we believe that often that decision to carry by that young man is what led to his death. And so I think that lack of information amongst some parts of our community and candidly amongst some family members is a significant factor in the gun violence problem we have.
Teen: What are ways police can counter altercations without violence?
Lt. Col. Ronnie Robinson: …Enforcement is not the answer to all our problems and incarceration is definitely not the answer. We need intervention and outreach along with enforcement in order to solve the ills that we are suffering from in our city of St. Louis relative to violent crime involving teens.
Dr. Jason Purnell: I think its also very important to put violence among teenagers in St. Louis in to some context. The United States is a violent country. We have about 15 times the homicide death rate of Western Europe. We have a history of violence. So to say that this is a problem of teenagers or among African American teenagers or among African American teenage boys is to ignore a larger history and context. Violence happens where people have three conditions: they don’t believe in some strong central authority that’s going to come in and solve their disputes for them, they have a sense of honor that they need to protect and respect and codes of respect that need to be protected, and they have the sense that they have to project toughness as a deterrent to anyone doing violence against them. So when those three conditions are in place all human beings are violent. So we have to understand the roots of violence if we are really going to attack the problem.