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The Public Health Summit pledges to reduce gun violence among kids



Indianapolis, Indiana – As the city of Indianapolis gets ready to close off what might turn out to be a record year for youth gun wound deaths and injuries, Marion County Public Health Director Doctor Virigina Caine presented a “Youth Violence Prevention Call to Action.”

According to IMPD, as of as now, at least 21 children have passed away from gunshot wounds, while more than 60 are in the recovery phase following their injuries in 2023.

The children who were injured or killed by gunshots in other parts of Marion County are not included in that total.

”How do I get this community to understand that this is a major issue for all of us?” asked Dr. Caine. ”I don’t want this to become such a normal part of our life that it doesn’t raise our consciousness. We’ve got to do something about this. I’m trying to do a call to action.”

About eighty stakeholders, including mentors, educators, legislators, and juvenile justice officials, were called by Caine to the Ivy Tech campus. There, a variety of contributing factors to childhood gunshot injuries and violence were discussed, and solutions were pledged.

”We have to identify more resources and we have to make a major investment, but in order to do that, does the average citizen understand about the statistics that are impacting our youth and our children, and I’m not sure that they do,” said Caine. ”Can I meet with policymakers and ask about how can we address social determinants together because they can be risk factors that are creating a lot of these issues? Can I identify enough service providers that are culturally and appropriately trained in order to provide proper counseling in order to help our youth who may be at risk?”

In her speech, assistant professor Lauren Magee of Indiana University’s O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs discussed what she called “data silos” in the fields of emergency response, law enforcement, and medicine that impede researchers’ efforts to compile data on the problem of gun violence among children in Indianapolis and come up with solutions.

The far east part of the city is represented by City-County Councilwoman La Keisha Jackson, who said the council may find funding to assist researchers in combining their findings.

Additionally, Magee informed the guests that her study with relatives and survivors of gunshot wounds shows that those who witness or are victims of gun violence have high levels of anxiety, PTSD, and despair.

“These young people are going through very much adult situations right now,” said Brandon Randall of True Colors Indy, who mentors high-risk youth involved in the juvenile justice system. “I work with several students who are homeless or being evicted or their lights are cut off. They have no food. And we expect young people to navigate trauma when they have access to weapons, low coping skills and not a whole lot of support and sustainability within the community. That’s a recipe for disaster.”

After being expelled from school due to a gun charge, 15-year-old Dewayne Proctor joined the New B.O.Y. program. He reported that he had lost three friends to gun violence in the past year and nine in his entire childhood.

”Kids feel like they’re all alone out here. They feel like they don’t have nobody,” he said. ”Too much of what y’all say would go over kids’ heads so I try to be like the middleman to help kids and parents connect and they understand better.”

In 2023, a year in which violent crime is declining, 10% of IMPD’s homicide totals were caused by fatal gunshots to minors.

”If we’re talking about how homicides are down, well, it’s not when it comes to kids,” said Randall. ”We need other funders and other foundations to collectively work together to support the work people are doing every day and I think we haven’t tapped into that like we need to but that is a call to action for funders, for corporate investors, philanthropists, we have to expand the funding and not just rely on one or two sources of that if we’re going to be effective.”

To genuinely stop the bleeding and address the underlying causes of violence in young lives, Dr. Caine stated that this kickoff summit was only the beginning. She will now take the message about preventing youth gun violence to the Statehouse, the City-County Council, charitable donors, and grant funders to secure financial commitments to elevating the “public health crisis” of juvenile gun injuries.

”Things such as social determinants of health, are we making sure that we are addressing food insecurity?” she asked. “I don’t want to have someone who has been hungry for five days thinking that, ‘I have to get a gun and rob somebody in order to feed myself.’ What’s the state of housing look like, if I want to receive counseling and I have no insurance, where can I go for someone to counsel me who understands my environment and my lifestyle?”

To address the issue of violence, Dr. Caine stated that MCPHD would shortly provide a platform that will serve as a clearinghouse of information for parents, youth, and the community.

”Where can any person go and find out what are the activities related to violence? If I wanted to put my kid into a violence prevention program, where could I find that information easy enough in order to do that and I can contact somebody?” she said. ”We’re going to launch a huge software platform that will list all of the organizations, whether they’re faith-based group systems, civic organizations, we’re doing violence prevention activities, what those activities are, what’s on the calendar if someone’s having a summit or a meeting, we’re going to place that on our software calendar. That’s gonna be a first start for us.”

Dr. Caine stated last summer that she would think about asking the council to designate adolescent gunshot injuries in Marion County as a public health emergency. This would grant the county access to additional cash, resources, and programming.

”I think what we’re hopeful for is we will see elected officials put their campaign strategies where their mouth is. A lot of people ran on public safety but there weren’t a lot of elected officials here today,” said Randall. ”We have to not tap dance or appease peoples’ emotions and how people feel because kids are dying every day.”

On February 10, 2024, True Colors Indy will host a youth violence prevention conference at the Fay Biccard Glick Neighborhood Center. Thirty-odd young people will moderate the event, and the hope is that two hundred adults will come to hear from Indianapolis teens about how gun violence has affected their lives.

”We all in this together,” said Proctor, who describes himself as a “middleman” between children and adults so that they might be able to better understand each other. “Ain’t nobody in this by theyself. If we all come together, we can all get something done.”