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Police, Prosecutors, And Moms Seek Ways To Reduce Youth Violence

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Stu Johnson
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It would probably be fair to say youth violence is a concern in virtually every community across the country.  It certainly is in Lexington where, so far in 2021, police have investigated 20 homicides. Of that number, nine teenagers are either victims or suspects in those crimes.

Lexington Police Lieutenant Paul Boyles said, over the year he’s supervised robbery, homicide, and violent crimes cases, there’s been an increasing number of juvenile suspects and victims. In some neighborhoods, Boyles said, young people grow up regularly hearing gunshots and seeing violence.  “It’s just something that’s a matter of the every-day for you.  Then seeing it every day, it’s not…wouldn’t seem to be me to be too much of a stretch to then become part of your everyday that you then do,” said Boyles 

Boyles pointed out that’s just his observation as a police officer. He’s not a psychologist or sociologist. 

Kathi Crowe is a member of Lexington’s Moms Demand Action For Gun Sense in America.  She said she thinks gun violence is contagious among a relatively small percentage of the community, with often known perpetrators.  Crowe said it’s a myth that gun violence is all gang related. “Probably pretty spontaneous with youth, when there’s an altercation, there’s usually retaliation.  I think the kids all know each other and I think it really turns deadly because there’s easy access to guns,” said Crowe. 

Crowe said, on average, four guns are stolen every day across Kentucky and private purchases are not uncommon.  The Moms Demand Action representative said a federal background check on every gun purchase is needed.  She also said local governments should not be permitted to institute gun laws. She said that should be left up to state lawmakers. 

Crowe said much attention, understandably, focuses on gun-related deaths.  But, she said, life-long injuries are often a result of gun violence.  One Moms Demand Action member was shot eleven times and has had multiple surgeries over 20 years. “Just what it’s done to him, his life, not being able to work.  I mean you carry that with you.  So, it’s not just the victim that dies, but it’s the whole community that really suffers,” explained Crowe 

The county attorney’s office deals with much of the juvenile crime activity.  Assistant Fayette County Attorney Heather Matix said there’s been, “a massive increase in gun crimes over the past year. There are conflicts that happen in the community that spilled over into the school system when the kids were back in person and we gathered the groups for the two sides together in different places and talked to parents about what can we do, how can we basically squash these conflicts that your kids are having with these other kids just because they live in a different neighborhood,” said Matix. 

Fayette County Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn said addressing youth violence is a complex issue.  The prosecutor with more than three decades of courtroom experience said the objective is always to do all that’s possible to prevent acts of violence. “It would be great if we could prevent things from happening before they ever happen.  If we can intervene in young lives, whether before or when young people are on the cusp of making some very bad judgements.  But I think in order for us to do that we have to have some cooperation from the community,” Red Corn said. 

Lexington Police Lieutenant Paul Boyles said violence prevention programs can work.  He said often, success stories involving young people are not widely known. “It may sound cliché, but if it helps….if it helped one kid pick up a book instead of a gun, then I’ll call it a win,” said Boyles. 

In part two of this WEKU look at Lexington youth violence, we’ll hear from teenagers about what they feel is the cause of sometimes deadly gun use. 

“It’s like things happen over time.  It’s like before Kentucky probably didn’t have much gun violence.  But now it’s like set in, like marinated in Kentucky.  So, now, it’s the normal.” 

But does gun violence have to be normal? Tomorrow we’ll hear about one Lexington organization, which is working to make gun violence less than normal.

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