Saint Louis Story Stitchers held the 2016 youth-led videotaped discussion on gun violence called, It’s Not OK! on November 10th in Kranzberg Arts Center’s Black Box Theater. The program created a platform for a lively youth-led discussion with local community leaders to identify problems and solutions and to create an action plan for peace for youth and families affected by gun violence. Stitchers Teen Council Co-Chairs Aniya and Toryon led the discussion.
Aniya: Last year we learned that half of the gun crimes in St. Louis involved people under the age of 25. Young people in the city of St. Louis have access to guns and the criminal activity amongst teenagers in the city is at a very high rate. Has anything changed since last year?
Lieutenant Colonel Ronnie L. Robinson, Deputy Chief of Police, Commander, Bureau of Community Affairs: No, not much has changed since last year relative to the age of individuals involved in criminal activity involving weapons. Right now with gun crimes where weapons have been involved, we’re looking at right around 70% relative to the age of 25 and under for individuals being involved in these crimes. So we’re basically flat as far as the numbers are concerned.
Teen panelist: If you say there hasn’t been a change, what do you think are the solutions, for there to be a change?
Lt. Col. Robinson: Right now we’re constantly working on innovative and different approaches relative to crime here in the city of St. Louis. Post Ferguson we learned a lot about how our community was feeling relative to the service they were receiving from police agencies in our community. And what we really recognize is that the trust factor between the community and the police agencies was not very good and has deteriorated to the point where we have to make it a priority to improve those relationships. And as far as violent crime is concerned we are moving toward a holistic approach and a proactive approach as far as my Bureau is concerned. Our job is to be proactive instead of reactive to crime and get more involved at an early age with the individuals that we see that are exposed to criminal activity on a consistent basis. We try to get involved in their lives early and build relationships between police officers and students such as yourself. Even in grade school Lt. Johnson can address some initiatives that he has going on as early as grade school.
Lieutenant Perri Johnson, Commander Juvenile Division, St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department: What Col. Robinson is referring to… we have been able to put a number of programs in the schools and that’s what we have to do now. We have to reach young people at a very young age to give them some reassurance that you’re going to have the right police, in the right community, doing the right things, for the right people, to get the right outcome. So that starts young. Not to say that we’re just going to focus on the grade schools because we focus on all the schools.
We have things going on in grade school, middle school, and high schools…things such as the G.R.E.A.T. program: Gangs, Resistance, Education, And Training. Part of that is to help try to reduce gun violence, to teach kids, just like in you all’s song, that it’s not cool to have a gun. We put in a program called STOP’s, Students Talking it Over with Police in the middle schools so that we can address the same issues not just that but also for you all as young people to see us for who we really are. We realize there are some bad apples out there and we’re not happy with that either and that’s where we have to get that communication going so that when you see me you don’t fear me, you don’t fear this uniform because guess what, a lot of us are just like you, we’re just older right now.
The struggles that you have – we empathize with those, we’re compassionate for those struggles and we want them to stop also. We want to try to curb the gun violence. There is nothing sadder than for us to go to a scene and there is a young person that’s been the victim of gun violence. That hurts us, too. It’s just unfortunate that we’ve been trained not to talk about that, we’ve been trained not to open up too much, but now’s the time for us to change the culture and the way that we do things. That’s why a lot of you all see me at your schools., there’s a lot of schools that I go to and I’m the kind of person – you can approach me, you can stop me, you can talk to me in the halls, you can ask me any kind of question. You know I got a chance to talk with some of you all the other day and they asked questions and that’s what we want. We want that transparency; we want that comfort level, like I said the last thing we want is fear.
Lt. Col. Robinson: One thing before the next question. He mentioned that he doesn’t want you to fear us. And that really means we want you to trust us. I’m just going to give an example of an incident that occurred approximately two or three weeks ago. We had a 14-year-old killed that was assassinated at Natural Bridge and Newstead in North St. Louis. In the news interview they did a segment with the mother and the mother had a message to the killer, the killers of her son. Well we learned during the investigation that the kid was at the library located on the corner. He called a friend of his and he felt that his life was in danger, and the friend of his told him to stay in the library, which he did not. We want to get to the point that instead of calling that friend, it would have been awesome if he could have called a police officer and I think if that had of happened, if he trusted the police and had a relationship with a police officer, that he would be alive today.
This program was sponsored by the Regional Arts Commission, Kranzberg Arts Foundation, Kranzberg Arts Center, the Institute for Public Health’s Gun Violence Initiative at Washington University in St. Louis, the Steward Family Foundation, the Yvette and John Dubinsky Family Foundation, and Risa Zwerling and Mark S. Wrighton, Ph.D.
Youth ages 15-24 who are interested in joining the Saint Louis Story Stitchers are invited to email email@example.com for more information.