DENVER – It was lunchtime on a balmy day in the sprawling Aurora suburb of Denver when a truck full of teenagers pulled into the parking lot of a high school where students were gathered and gun shots were hit. fire rang out.
Three were injured while others ran in fear.
One of the boys indicted in the Nov. 19 shooting later told investigators he brought his armed friends to an expected gang fight because “it’s like that in this city,” according to court documents.
The shooting was one of several involving teenagers over a two-week period that brought renewed attention to a long-standing issue of gun violence and gangs in the state’s third largest city, where the police department was monitored for its treatment of blacks. residents. Activists and officials say easy access to guns contributes to the problem, which has also been exacerbated by the pandemic and its effects, especially on the mental health of minority adolescents in the city.
In the United States, shootings involving children and adolescents have increased in recent years, including in 2021. A March report by the Children’s Defense Fund found that shooting deaths of children and adolescents had peaked in 19 years in 2017 and have remained high. Black children and adolescents were four times more likely than whites to be shot.
Aurora has seen an increase in the number of black and Latino families and immigrants from around the world as Denver has grown more expensive in recent years. These families of color have been hit hardest in health but also economically by the COVID-19 pandemic, contributing to mental health issues, said Maisha Fields, an activist who works with youth and youth. families in the city of approximately 379,000 inhabitants.
The November 19 shooting started with an argument in the parking lot of Hinkley High School after the truck full of boys arrived. After the initial shots, the van left, with at least two teenagers pointing guns out the windows, causing the students to run in fear, police said.
Three 16-year-olds were then charged, including the boy who told investigators about the gang brawl.
Fields, who is also vice president for the organization of the Brady Gun Control Group, said the teenager’s attitude about the need to be armed gave her chills. It reminded him of the insensitivity that led his brother, Javad Marshall-Fields, and his fiancee, Vivian Wolfe, to be shot dead in Aurora in 2005 as he prepared to testify against a man accused of murdering his friend. At a concert.
Jason McBride, a violence prevention expert who works with teens for the Struggle of Love Foundation in Denver and Aurora, and Angela Lawson, a member of Aurora City Council, both said the teens showed them publications. on Snapchat, where the messages disappeared, offering guns for sale.
McBride thinks the gangs are to blame for much of the problem – not necessarily the organized Crips and Bloods like in previous years, but smaller, loosely affiliated groups of teenagers who may not be associated with a particular neighborhood but who are argue on social media.
Some also create their own untraceable guns using a 3D printer or by purchasing and assembling purchased parts online, McBride said.
The generational trauma of seeing loved ones killed in shootings also normalized them, he said. And being kept away from school, escaping problems at home, has put a strain on the mental health of some adolescents.
McBride said a 16-year-old recently told him he would use bullets if he fought so he didn’t have to worry about getting his clothes dirty.
âThis is the headspace our kids find themselves in,â he said.
While shootings involving teenagers are not a new problem in Aurora, those on or near school grounds are unusual, said Kyla Armstrong-Romero, who was the city’s school board chairperson until her time. resigned last week after the new elected members took office. She said she hopes the attention to shootings near schools will spark more interest in the work that needs to be done to prevent gun violence among adolescents, which she says has often been underfunded.
Lawson agrees that the fighting on social media and the effect of students being forced to stay home last year contributed to the violence. But she thinks gangs are only part of the reason for the shootings.
The city’s original anti-gang program ended after its funding ended – fines for drivers filmed going through red lights – faded when voters removed cameras in 2018. In April, the city launched a new youth violence prevention program funded by an increase in the sales tax on marijuana. However, only three of the six planned positions, including an outreach worker, were filled, Lawson said.
With a budget of $ 1.1 million, the city is in the process of recruiting for the remaining positions, city spokesman Ryan Luby said. Some of the funding will also support community-led efforts, he said.
The city’s teens also need a dedicated place they can go, perhaps one of the city’s recreation centers, where they can participate in organized activities, have access to services including counseling in mental health, and just talking to others, Lawson said.
Containing the violence will also require the help of parents, the police and the community at large, she said.
âIt’s all over the bridge,â Lawson said.