MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Youth violence is a big problem with no end in sight. Police across the U.S. say more and more victims are innocent bystanders. Many long-time Mobilians said they don’t feel safe letting their kids do a lot of the things they did when they were kids.

WKRG News 5 anchor Cherish Lombard, who grew up in Mobile, was met by teenagers with a gun when she took her children to a public playground. She, like many others, are wondering what happened to the city.

Sgt. John Young with the Mobile Police Department said he grew up in West Mobile and Hillsdale, and graduated from Baker in 1990.

“I never had a fear of being shot or robbed. But now we’ve had shootings at Bel-Air Mall,” said Young. “We’ve had a shooting at a bowling alley. We’ve had a shooting at Bienville Square. These are areas that historically have never had problems. West Mobile did not have problems. But now this mindset has spread, and it’s everywhere now, in areas that used to be, ‘safe.'”

He believes that a “violent mindset” is based on emotion and materialism that’s heightened through TV shows, music and social media.

“It isn’t hard to see the vulgarity in the music, the lyrics and the behavior; the hypersexuality in the behavior, in the manners of dress, the language in public displays of just willful disregard and disrespect of self,” said Young. “And if a person does not respect themselves, they surely won’t respect anyone else.”

But the police officer said those kids crave popularity. So when they see rappers who they idolize waving guns and hear them glorifying murder, all they see are people who are famous and making a lot of money. That’s what they want, too.

Mobile County District Judge Spiro Cheriogotis said he believes we all saw the problem escalating, but ignored it.

“We’ve put it in the back corner and said that this is not affecting my daily life,” said Cheriogotis. “We as Americans, as a group, we’ve kind of said there’s nothing we can do to fix it.”

When kids pull out guns, sometimes innocent people get killed. Sometimes, they’re children themselves. Like Lequinten Morrissette, 11, who was inside of his home when he was gunned down during a drive-by shooting May 30, 2022. Ciara Jackson was a passenger inside of a car on Michael Donald Avenue. The 14-year-old was shot to death in a case of mistaken identity, the day after Morrissette was killed.

Young has been very vocal about the upward trend in youth violence, bringing a lot of attention to the problem after Jackson’s death. On June 1, 2022, this is what he told reporters:

“She died on a street named after Michael Donald, the last known lynching by the KKK in 1980,” said Young. “40 years later more innocent blood is shed on that street that’s supposed to memorialize the death, sacrifice. And a Black girl is gunned down on that street by a Black man is disgusting! I said it! There’s a subculture of gun violence in the City of Mobile with young Black men and it’s high damn time we did something about it.”

Judge Cheriogotis said addressing the problem should start at home, but it’s also the responsibility of political leaders.

“When you start to look at the youth violence numbers, the number of kids that are detained in youth detention facilities, 85% of them come from houses that don’t contain a father,” said Cheriogotis. “Frankly, I don’t think we’re doing much to encourage families to stay together, to encourage moms and dads to cohabitate, to be there for their children. And with our fiscal policies, we encourage the exact opposite.”

He said we need to contact our representatives our legislators, and we tell them we want it to stop.

“They have to fight against the incentivization by our government’s fiscal policy to keep these houses with single parents, single moms who are either working so hard they can’t be present or they’re not present by choice or by bad decisions,” said Cheriogotis. “And until we take that incentive away to keep your house as a single-parent house so that you qualify for more what people would call entitlement programs, I don’t see this problem of fatherless homes getting better.”

MPD Youth Violence Prevention Coordinator, Joshua Jones, said more people need to volunteer for local programs set up to help these “at risk” kids connect with people who care.

“We need individuals who are willing to step up and take these kids under their wings,” said Jones. “We got ‘Big Brothers, Big Sisters who are out there in the community, who are ready. They need bigs. We need more bigs. We need more mentors.”

There’s a great need for mentors who are men.

“We need professionals who are within the city who made it out of these areas, to be able to go back into these areas and give these kids something that they can see and aspire to be,” said Jones. “If they see somebody who was able to make it out of this struggle, who walked in the same position, they walked the same streets, lived in the same neighborhoods that they lived in and made it out, you know, maybe, you know, that’s some hope that that glimmer of light shone a light that they needed to say, hey, if he could do it, I can do it.”

Jones, Young and Chgeriogotis all said we have to remember, we are not immune to violence.

Hopefully your family won’t ever be subjected to violence at a bowling alley, in a car simply trying to get from point A to point B or at a playground. But until we all get on board and take the steps previously mentioned to stop it, it’s not going to end.

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