NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – In 2015, Nashville saw the highest number of youth murders in a decade and 20 homicide victims were teenagers or younger.
Last year, many of the youth murders were described as acts of brutal retaliation for squabbles that police say were once settled by punches instead of bullets.
Nashville Mayor Megan Barry has targeted youth violence and is working tirelessly to reduce it.
“What I want to see is, I want to see a reduction of kids killing kids,” she said.
Since being in office, Mayor Barry has formed a youth violence summit and its findings are being implemented.
“Our biggest challenge right now is making sure our children have a path to hope,” she said.
With that goal in mind, Operation NOW was launched.
“Opportunity Now is about putting 10,000 of our kids to work in paid, meaningful internships,” the mayor explained. “We think if they are busy, they are not going to be killing each other.”
So far, 7,600 kids have signed up for 9,600 available jobs and internships.
Assistant District AttorneyJenny Charles told News 2 it’s a great start to change lives.
“I’m seeing children who are 12 and 13 years old getting their hands on guns,” she said. “Where we used to see a lot more adult violence, it seems like not only the perpetrators, but the victims of gun violence are getting younger.”
Mayor Barry told News 2 that access to firearms is an issue and a cause for the youth violence.
“Especially for young children to have access, I mean, if you have firearms you have to make sure that they are secured so that you kids are not actually able to get to them and then just the proliferation of illegal handguns on our streets continues to rise,” she said.
Youth violence is not just an inner city issue, violence involving drugs, especially heroin is a growing problem among teens in affluent communities.
“Well I think it’s important as you just said to know this is a city wide issue, it’s not just one neighborhood, it’s not just a place if people are poor,” Barry said. “It’s really across the board and making sure the kids have opportunity for our whole community has been really critical.”
Still the findings of the youth summit show youth violence is the symptom and the causes are joblessness, poor educational opportunities, poverty and lack of role models.
“Well I think that you know, I would love to speak to the kids, but who I really love to speak to, are the adults, and that is mentor a kid a kid needs someone in their life who is the adult who he can talk to and look up to and bond with and that’s so critical,” Mayor Barry said.
In 2015, of the 20 teen homicide victims, 15 were male and all but four were African American. The youngest was a 14-year-old girl and all of the teens died as a result of gunfire.
“Well we have seen the reduction in the number going down, but I think you have to be ever vigilant because one death of one child is one too many,” Barry said.
The mayor also believes the big issues being addressed every day – access to transit, housing and increasing educational outcomes for kids is how the needle gets moved in reducing youth violence.