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Gun violence against Denver teens, children is increasing

Posted: 3:20 PM, Sep 15, 2019
Updated: 2019-09-16 14:02:29-04
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DENVER (AP) — The number of children and teens killed by gun violence in Denver is rising, and so is the number of youth charged with gun-related crimes, The Denver Post reported Sunday.

The newspaper said its analysis showed 15 teens and children have been shot and killed in the city since Jan. 1, 2018, more than in the previous three years combined.

Prosecutors said 107 teens were charged with gun possession in 2018, compared with 50 in 2015. This year is on pace to equal or surpass last year.

Law enforcement officers, community members and health officials point to a variety of possible reasons for the increase in gun violence against young people. They include changing gang structures, easy access to firearms, violent video games, socioeconomic inequality, hopelessness and an online culture that glorifies gun possession.

"Everybody from young kids to elders are repeatedly exposed to gun violence and it can become part of the larger culture," said Jonathan McMillan, who has worked to reduce youth violence and intervene in gang activity in Denver for more than 20 years. "They become traumatized over and over and over."

Black and Latino youth are the most likely groups to suffer from gun violence, crime statistics show.

Sixty-three of the 67 teenagers and kids who have been shot and wounded in Denver between Jan. 1, 2018, and last month were black or Latino. A report released last week by Denver Public Health attributed some of the racial disparities to socioeconomic inequalities and lack of opportunity for teens of color.

"People who live in neighborhoods of concentrated disadvantage are more likely to witness or experience violence than those who live in neighborhoods without concentrated disadvantage," the report said. "Because African American and Latino residents are more likely to live in such neighborhoods, they are more likely to experience and be the victims of violence."

McMillan and the Rev. Leon Kelly, a longtime anti-gang activist, said a change in gang activity is also contributing to youth violence. Adult gang members are increasingly arming teens to carry out violence because they face less prison time if caught, Kelly said.

Community leaders are trying to find solutions.

Officials are treating youth gun violence as a public health problem as well as a law enforcement issue, said Maritza Valenzuela, youth health manager at Denver Public Health. The Denver Public Health report recommended working harder to address trauma from gun violence, improve quality of life for young people, increase job opportunities and promote safe gun storage.

At Denver Health, young victims of gunshots and stabbings are connected with caseworkers who help guide through the health care system and help them find jobs, counseling or other resources. Caseworkers also help victims deal with trauma, hoping it will decrease the desire for revenge.

The hospital is a good setting for intervention because the victims are often scared and vulnerable and question their life choices, said Dr. Katherine Bakes, who founded the program.

"It's where people who are at risk of violent injuries become visible," she said.

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Information from: The Denver Post, http://www.denverpost.com