Speak Up campaign from City of Minneapolis
Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator Alyssa Banks
MINNEAPOLIS - The murder of Nizzel Anthony George, 5, was a tragedy for his family and the community, but it was also a setback to ongoing efforts in Minneapolis to curb youth violence in a more comprehensive, long-term ways.
"Every time there's an incident like this it just reminds us of the fragility of our efforts, and that we can't just back off, because we feel like we're making progress," Alyssa Banks, the City's Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator, told KARE.
"There are people dedicating their lives, working 24-7 to prevent these types of acts, to reach youth before they resort to violence," she said.
The Brooklyn Park boy was sleeping on a sofa in his grandmother's house in the 4500 block of Bryant Avenue North Tuesday morning, when someone fired at least ten bullets into the front of the house. At least one of the rounds struck the boy, killing him.
The attack came six months after a Terrell Mayes Jr., 3, was killed by a stray bullet while walking up the stairs of his family's home. That crime remains unsolved, but investigators said they do not believe the two shootings were the work of the same shooter.
In Minneapolis youth crime prevention is treated as a public health priority. The goal of the program is to intervene in the lives of children before they reach the point where they're willing to solve their differences with gunfire.
That approach recognizes that added police patrols and court action can only go so far in resolving the problems.
"When you try to address the issue of youth violence only using one approach, and only trying to criminalize people after the violence has already occurred, you're not really getting at the root causes of that delinquent behavior," Banks explained.
"Those actions stem from many other issues that were occurring before a young person gets to the point of pulling the trigger," she added.
The city partners with a variety of community organizations and other government agencies to steer youth away from violence and crime, with the following four main goals in mind.
- Every young person is supported by at least one trusted adult
- Intervene at the first sign that youth and families are at risk for or involved in violence
- Do not give up on kids; work to restore and get them back on track
- Recognize violence is learned behavior that can be unlearned
Providing safe environments for children in higher crime areas is also an important part of the program, which includes after school programs and support for facilities such as parks, gyms, pools and libraries.
"There are a lot of our young people that are running around that don't have adults in their lives that can be trusted, or that are positive influences on their lives, unfortunately," Banks said.
"So making sure there are family members or positive adult youth leaders in their lives or teachers or other types of professionals that can interact with that young person to show them that they are supported is very, very important to healthy youth development," she said.
The city also sponsors campaigns encouraging children and their families to report acts of violence and threats. The Speak Up hotline at 1-866-SPEAKUP, enables youth to alert authorities to threats and remain anonymous.
Violent crime dropped dramatically in Minneapolis between 2006 and 2011, and youth violence fell at an even faster rate. So that gives those involved in prevention efforts some reason to believe they're making a difference.
High profile cases such as the death of Nizzel George reinforce the need to keep up the battle to change lives, and point youth in the right direction.
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