Hampton, Va. - After a shooting at Woodland Skate Park on New Year's Eve, Hampton city leaders are once again calling on the community for their support to help stop youth violence.
"We need mentors, we need good examples, we need people who care about our community," said Steven Brown, Chair of the City’s Community Action Coalition.
It’s a tragic end to a difficult year where gun violence spiked in the city around springtime. In May, five teens were shot at the Hampton carnival. Then, two weeks after that, a woman was shot in a mall parking lot. But the breaking point came a few weeks later when two babies were shot while in their grandparents' front yard.
"We've got to get young people to make quality choices because the consequences are great to negative actions,” explained Brown.
The coalition along with police and other officials have been working since then to come up with ways to engage and mentor the city's youth.
Brown says the city is putting more money towards prevention and economic development where teens can get jobs in the summer. With the help of the community – parents, school officials, fraternities, sororities, grandparents, the clergy and other foundations – Brown hopes they can reach kids at a young age.
At the same time, the Hampton police chief says the city has started a “Safe and Clean” initiative – a collaborative effort to improve the quality of life in area neighborhoods.
“We've seen some improved relationship building. We were out in the neighborhoods with the command post trying to build some relationships; there's been a lot of focus on the traditional efforts of policing,” said Police Chief Terry Sult.
Even though Chief Sult says they’ve seen some improvements over the last several weeks, the issue of youth gun violence is something he and other city officials are especially concerned about.
"We need to look at how are these youth getting guns in their hands and we need to be tracking and looking at those and we're being very diligent working with our federal partners." Sult also added, “We need to get into conflict resolution helping kids understand the best ways to resolve conflict."
Brown says he's working with the coalition on this. He says part of their prevention efforts includes teaching young teens about conflict resolution. The group has already held some forums and focus groups for youth and they plan to continue that in 2014.
While Brown says he understands stopping gun violence completely is impossible, he believes with the help of the community, they can make a positive impact on the city’s young people.
"I'm asking community members to help us bring back the villagers. You've heard the proverb, "It takes the whole village to raise a child,” said Brown.