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Chicago Youth Impels ‘Increase The Peace’ Campaign to Combat Violence

Gun violence plagues Chicago, a city of more than 2.7 million, where nearly 2,000 people have been shot so far this year

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Increase the peace campaign
Chicago Youths Hope to 'Increase the Peace' to Combat Violence. VOA
  • More than 2,000 people have been shot so far this year in Chicago due to Gun Violence
  • Instead of gunshots, drumbeats and chants fill the air as a man leads a group of young people, on a protest march to “increase the peace”
  • Carlos and Geiger both realize that marches and backyard cookouts can only go so far

July 17, 2017: When he woke July 5 to news that more than 100 people had been shot in the city of Chicago over the long Independence Day holiday weekend — 15 of them fatally — 16-year-old Carlos Yanez shrugged it off.

“After a while, you just get used to it,” Carlos said. “I mean, what can you do? We don’t have no one helping us. What can we do?”

Gun violence plagues Chicago, a city of more than 2.7 million, where nearly 2,000 people have been shot so far this year.

Though the number of shootings is slightly down from last year, the problem has caught the attention of the Trump administration, which has ordered more federal agents to assist state and local law enforcement in the Midwestern city. But Carlos said an increased police presence and a national spotlight on the violence have not helped those living in these South Chicago neighborhoods.

 

Increase the peace
Rev. Al Sharpton stands with clergy and responds to a question during a news conference, July 13, 2017, in Chicago, where concerns were voiced over the announcement that more federal agents will be sent to Chicago without serious meetings with community leaders. VOA

‘Gets worse and worse’

“It’s been going on and it just gets worse and worse,” he said, the resignation clear in his voice. “Chicago’s broke, CPS (Chicago Public Schools) is broke and yet they are funding all these cameras on every street corner, all these speed bumps, all these turnabouts. All these new cop cars, all this new equipment, but yet they still can’t fix the violence.”

It is violence Carlos himself has narrowly avoided. He said even though he’s not affiliated with a gang, he’s dodged bullets five times. Many of those around him have been injured, or died.

“Just a couple of months ago, a 28-year-old man was killed right on this block,” said Berto Aguayo, standing outside a church in the predominantly Hispanic Back of the Yards neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Aguayo is a community organizer with The Resurrection Project, a nonprofit organization that, among other things, is trying to work at the grassroots level to combat the violence.

“I lived two blocks away from here. I was a gang member in this community back in my younger days. I’ve lost friends to gang violence. I lost my first friend when I was 13 years old. And that’s a typical story of people here on the South Side of Chicago. Death is a constant fear.”

But on a balmy Friday evening, fear seems far away from these streets in the neighborhood Aguayo grew up in.

Increase the peace
Participants march for peace in a prayer walk, April 14, 2017, through one Chicago neighborhood hit hard by gun violence, the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. VOA

‘Increase the peace’

Instead of gunshots, drumbeats and chants fill the air as he leads a group, mostly of young people, on a protest march to “increase the peace.”

“This idea originated back in October 2016, when a 16-year-old girl was killed in front of our office,” Aguayo explained. “It became a point of the community being fed up. Young people were fed up with the violence they were witnessing.”

He said that became a catalyst for the Increase the Peace campaign.

“Youth decided, hey, why don’t we camp out on a street corner on a Friday night that is usually plagued by violence on a Friday night. What we try to do here is really stay on a block, and have a positive presence, and promote peace through our young people,” Aguayo said.

“It’s bringing people together, not ostracizing anyone,” Deztinee Geiger said. “The ostracization is what causes people to pick up a gun a lot of the time.”

Geiger is one of the youth leaders of this event at St. Joseph’s church, the first of several planned for Fridays this summer throughout different neighborhoods.

‘Respond with positive energy’

Carlos, the 16-year-old who also is one of the youth organizers of the Increase the Peace campaign, said the message is simple: “You don’t always have to respond with violence. You can respond with positive energy.”

But Carlos and Geiger both realize that marches and backyard cookouts can only go so far.

“The root of the problem is lack of resources, which results in violence,” Geiger said. “So therefore to fix the fact that violence exists, you have to fix the fact that there are a lack of resources.”

One resource Geiger thinks would help is a youth or community center, so those most at risk have a permanent place to go for positive activities. But with or without those resources, Geiger said the primary goal is to “change the narrative” of the violence shaping the city.

“I don’t think the violence will shape us. I think the leadership by young people is going to shape us. I think that what’s beautiful about this is that it’s not focused on violence,” Geiger said.

But it is violence that continues. On the weekend Geiger spoke to VOA, 41 people were shot in the city, three fatally, underscoring the need to “increase the peace.” VOA

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Leading Cause of Death of Youth in the U.S: Guns

Black youth also had higher rates of drowning deaths (1.6 times as high) and fire-related deaths (2.3 times as high) than white youth.

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USA, youth
Mourners grieve at a vigil in honor of Edward and Edwin Bryant, twin brothers who at age 17 were shot and killed in Chicago, Illinois, Oct. 31, 2016. VOA

Motor vehicles and firearms kill young Americans more than any other cause, like disease, which has significantly declined, according to a new study.

The New England Journal of Medicine reports that less than 2 percent (or 20,360) of all U.S. deaths — including adults — occur among children and adolescents 1 to 19 years old.

“By 2016,” the year for which the most recent data are available, “death among children and adolescents had become a rare event,” study authors Dr. Rebecca M. Cunningham, Maureen A. Walton and Dr. Patrick M. Carter of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor wrote in the Dec. 20 edition.

But in the second largest cause of death among young people — death by firearms — the U.S. leads the world.

“The rate of firearm deaths among children and adolescents was higher in the United States than in all other high-income countries and low-to-middle-income countries with available 2016 data,” the authors wrote, or 36.5 times as high as 12 other “high-income” countries.

Mass shooting, youth
Grace Fisher is a mom who is fearful for her three children. She said something needs to change with regard to gun regulations. She lives in a neighborhood near Thousand Oaks, site of the most recent U.S. mass shooting. VOA

Data for 2017, which are not included in the NEJM article, show a continued increase in firearm deaths for children and adolescents, Cunningham said.

“One in three U.S. homes with youth under 18 years of age has a firearm, with 43 percent of homes reporting that the firearm is kept unlocked and loaded, which increases the risk of firearm injuries,” the authors reported. “In addition to differences in availability between the United States and other countries, there is wide variability across countries in laws relating to the purchase of firearms, access to them and safe storage.”

At the same time, “early diagnosis, vaccinations, antibiotics, and medical and surgical treatment” resulted in “declines in deaths from infectious disease or cancer,” the report said.

And while motor vehicle events were the leading cause of death for young people, that cause has declined 38 percent over the past decade, the authors wrote.

What caused the declines?

“Seat belts and appropriate child safety seats, the production of cars with improved safety standards, better constructed roads, graduated driver licensing programs, and a focus on reducing teen drinking and driving,” the authors wrote, noting that the decline occurred at the same time as increases in the number of U.S. vehicles and annual vehicle-miles traveled.

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Among youth 10 to 19 years of age, injury deaths from motor vehicle crashes, firearms and suffocation were the three leading causes. VOA

But there’s a hitch: Between 2013 and 2016, research showed the decline leveling. And while researchers said they didn’t know for certain, they suspected that distracted driving by teenagers, by other teens in a car or by cellphone use, explained the leveling. The report also wondered about marijuana use and drugged driving leading to “decreased risk perceptions among adolescents.”

Among firearm deaths, 59 percent were homicides, 35 percent were suicides, and 4 percent were unintentional injuries such as accidental discharges of firearms, which aligns with incidents among Americans older than 20.

Death by firearms

Among the unintentional firearm deaths — less than 2 percent of all U.S. firearm deaths — 26 percent occurred among children and adolescents, the report said.

“Malignant neoplasms,” like cancer, were the third-leading cause of death, representing 9 percent of deaths among children and adolescents. That was followed by suffocation (7 percent) because of “bed linens, plastic bags, obstruction of the airway, hanging or strangulation.”

Among the youngest children, 1 to 4 years-old, drowning in swimming pools, rivers and lakes was the most common cause of death, the report said. Death by drowning was more rare in older children, “which potentially reflects widespread swim training among school-aged children.”

Gun control, youth
A man wears an unloaded pistol during a pro gun-rights rally at the state capitol, Saturday, April 14, 2018, in Austin, Texas. Gun rights supporters rallied across the United States to counter a recent wave of student-led protests against gun violence. (AP Photo/Eric Gay) VOA

Among youth 10 to 19 years of age, injury deaths from motor vehicle crashes, firearms and suffocation were the three leading causes. Researchers said these causes reflected “increased risk-taking behavior, differential peer and parental influence, and initiation of substance use.”

Drug overdoses or poisonings rose to the sixth-leading cause of death among children and adolescents in 2016, the report said, attributed to an increase in “opioid overdoses, which account for well over half of all drug overdoses among adolescents.”

Mortality was higher among blacks (38.2 per 100,000) and American Indians or Alaska Natives (28.0 per 100,000) than among whites (24.2 per 100,000) and Asians or Pacific Islanders (15.9 per 100,000), the authors wrote. Deaths related to firearms were the leading cause of death among black youth and occurred 3.7 times the rate of such deaths among white youth.

Drowning deaths

Black youth also had higher rates of drowning deaths (1.6 times as high) and fire-related deaths (2.3 times as high) than white youth. Blacks had death rates from heart disease and chronic lower respiratory diseases such as asthma that were 2.1 and 6.3 times as high, respectively, as the rates among white youth.

Also Read: Video: Orange Rallies in US Honor Victims of Gun Violence

“Such disparities probably reflect underlying socioeconomic issues, including poverty, environmental exposures and differential access to health care services,” the researchers wrote.

“Progress toward further reducing deaths among children and adolescents will require a shift in public perceptions so that injury deaths are viewed not as ‘accidents,’ but rather as social ecologic phenomena that are amenable to prevention.” the authors concluded. (VOA)