Teens Address Violence in their Community

Through our programs, Wyman constantly seeks to hear the concerns and voices of our teens. The following piece presents some opinions of teens in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP) who face violence in their community on a daily basis.

On a sunny day in North St. Louis City, teens in Wyman’s Teen Outreach Program (TOP) gathered together at the Julia Davis Library to participate in a community discussion that focused on the violence in their community.

Teen Outreach Program teens discuss violence

Jojo no longer wants to live with her area’s daily crime. A teen in Wyman’s TOP through the Youth and Family Center, she was one of about twenty young people who attended the community forum on crime and violence. The crime in her neighborhood, she and others voiced, didn’t always occur because of rivalries; in fact, lately the attacks have been more haphazard. This shift, one teen declared, is a result of attacks deemed the knockout game.

The knockout game consists of a group of teens joining together and assaulting – and sometimes robbing – randomly chosen victims to gain street cred. The report of incidents in local media are continuing and random attacks occur in many parts of the city.

It seems, too, that the violence has even more wide-reaching effects. At the forum, the TOP teens voiced their concerns about social media’s impact on crime; thanks to Facebook, Twitter, and cell phones with WiFi capabilities, teens participating in the knockout games and other crimes have an audience—and bragging rights—at their fingertips.

“I’ll go on Facebook only to see a video or post on my feed of a fight that occurred that day,” Jojo claimed. “People post [the videos of fights] just to see how many likes they can get.”

Social media isn’t only used to build street cred; it’s also a place where teens can bully, threaten, and rally their posse to gang up on someone.

“Teens are in school or on the bus and someone will Facebook, e-mail, or text that they are going to beat them up or jump them at their stop. Most of the time, the offenders have family members or friends meet the bus to help them fight,” Sharon Williams, a facilitator for Wyman’s TOP, added.

The TOP teens have experienced crimes that range from burglary to homicide. Their experiences mirror that of their peers, and all of them know a friend or family member that has been murdered.

Still, the community forum on crime and violence gives the young people hope that change can, one day, come. This discussion and others like it are vital to displaying the resolve of a community. Roneisha, one of the TOP teens who presented, agrees.

“I want to stop the crime in our neighborhood. I don’t want to go get a gun because I’m afraid. I am an A student, and don’t want to be defined by my zip code.”

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