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With two more teen gun deaths, local teen activists urge action, dialogue

Minnesota Teen Activists is working to support the families of two recent gun violence victims — and calling on leaders to do more.

MINNEAPOLIS — After two more local teenagers died due to gun violence in the last week, a local network of teenage activists is once again speaking out in hopes of drawing attention to what has now become one of the leading causes of death among young people.

During the last week, activity on the Instagram page for Minnesota Teen Activists has been dedicated to supporting the families of 17-year-old Yaseen Johnson, who was shot and killed while trying to buy a pair of sneakers in Plymouth; and 17-year-old Syoka Siko, who was shot and killed outside an apartment building in Brooklyn Park.

"From Yaseen to SK, both above 3.5 GPAs, both star athletes, both loving human beings, both loving to be creative and artistic, loving families," said Jerome Richardson, executive director of Minnesota Teen Activists. "My heart is just truly overwhelmed by the amount of GoFundMe's, memorials, or benefit concerts and marches that really the Black community has been faced with in the last few years. So I really have to ask myself, way too often, when is it really going to end?"

It's not just a problem here either. The CDC says youth violence is a common issue across the country. Homicide is the third leading cause of death in people aged 10 to 24, and it's the leading cause of death for Black youth in that age group. 

According to the Kaiser Foundation, that increase among Black youth was driven by a massive, 80% jump in gun assault deaths during the pandemic (556 deaths in 2019 to 1,000 deaths in 2021).

Minnesota Teen Activists have been working to raise awareness about those statistics throughout the pandemic, Richardson and a network of students across local school districts organized walk-outs to protest gun violence and push for changes aimed at addressing the core issues.

"The first thing is access to guns. We have to lockdown on gun laws, as well as illegal gun sales," Richardson said. "Another huge part, and really the staple, is poverty. It's simply lack of resources that exacerbates violence and a plethora of other tragedies."

If you add in the immediacy of social media with a lack of resources for the growing youth mental health crisis, he says even petty disagreements can, and sometimes do, erupt into violence within a few posts.

"It's difficult because times have changed, social media is a factor and those who are in office or in the positions to make the decisions, haven't taken the time to really have conversations and really interact with young people," Richardson said. "So that they understand the magnitude, and the rapidness and the timeline of what's occurring."

But he says that won't stop young people from continuing to organize themselves. He says they'll continue to use their voices to push for change because they're tired of using them to eulogize their peers.

"What most is unfortunate, to me, is that Black people are being killed every day here in north Minneapolis and the east side of St. Paul, and it shouldn't be that once these things begin to occur in the suburbs that they are brought to the surface," Richardson said. "If we don't bring in the village and the community to create alternate solutions to some of these conflicts, they will resolve to the easiest thing, that's literally being handed to them, and it's handguns." 

The family of "General" Yaseen Johnson is raising money for a foundation that will be aimed at addressing the issue of youth gun violence. You can contribute to it here.

Friends have started a fundraising page to help the family of Syoka
"SK" Sika cover funeral expenses. 

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