A New Pandemic Strikes the Young: Gun Violence Surges Across the Country Among Children and Teens

Community members attend a peace vigil to end gun violence in front of the house where a 10-year-old boy was shot in June in the Rockaway section of Queens (Getty Images)

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In a city where street violence has once again become common, it was still shocking front page news.

In just 10 months, more than 20 New York City children have been victims of gun violence, doubling data from the same time period just two years ago, according to the New York City Police Department.

The harrowing incidents of violence are constant.

A 14-year-old boy was shot getting off an MTA bus in Harlem earlier this month. The teen, who police say was the intended target, ​was grazed in the head by the bullet.

The shooting death of a 10-year-old Queens boy became part of the political landscape when mayoral candidates attended a peace vigil to end gun violence this summer.

Mayoral candidate Maya Wiley (left) joins activists, politicians and community members at a peace vigil to end gun violence in front of the house where a 10-year-old boy was shot in Queens on June 9. (Getty Images)

“Too many of our young people have been deprived of the chance to grow old and to lead the lives they deserve because of gun violence,” said U.S. Representative Yvette D. Clarke, who represents central brooklyn, speaking at a gun buyback event on Jan. 30 after record high levels of gun violence in her district. “Our communities, our culture, and most importantly our youth, have all suffered. 

New York City’s increase in shootings involving teens and children is not unique.

Across the country, 4,612 teens and children have been victims of shootings, with 1,215 killed this year — surpassing past years’ numbers and comparable to 2020’s record-high stats. 

This data is from Oct. 21. ​​Gun violence and crime incidents are collected and validated from 7,500 sources daily. (gunviolencearchive.org)

Hundreds of teens have been gunned down in Philadelphia and Chicago alone.

According to the ​​City of Chicago Violence Reduction Dashboard, 362 kids have been shot this year. Forty-three of the shootings were fatal. They are teens like 16-year-old Kierra Moore, a high school basketball star who died in a drive-by shooting on Oct. 14. 

“The pandemic is undoing any progress we had been making in reducing young people’s involvement in gun violence,” said Monica Bhatt, a Senior Research Director at the University of Chicago Education Lab and Crime Lab. Youth homicides were down almost 50 percent between 2016 and 2019, Bhatt said.

More than 170 kids have been shot in Philadelphia in the past 10 months, according to Office of the Controller data.

One 13-year-old was killed right outside of an elementary school in Philadelphia this month. 

Across the country, sidewalks and street corners have become sites for vigils and memorials as communities gather to remember young lives lost — like the “well-loved student and athlete,” Xavier Louis-Jacques, who was shot and killed in April at the basketball courts near his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Getty Images
Getty Images

A memorial sits at the scene where  6- and 7-year-old sisters were shot in August after leaving their grandmother’s home in Chicago. 

A memorial sits along the road near the site where 7-year-old Serenity Broughton and 6-year-old Aubrey Broughton were shot after leaving their grandmother’s home. (Getty Images)

But even vigils have become locations for violence: Just last week, a 16 year old was shot in Philadelphia during a vigil for another young gun victim.

Experts said the pandemic triggered the growing gun violence nationwide.

“The pandemic brought on a lot of stressors that lead to mental health issues,” said Christopher Herrmann, an assistant professor at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice and a former NYPD crime analyst. “An increase in mental illness will spark the violence.”

Getty Images

Community members and anti-gun violence advocates are looking for answers. GoodKids MadCity, a youth organization, implored Chicago Public School officials to create plans for students’ safety and mental health care. A Chicago schools spokesman said a plan would be released Oct. 25. 

Bhatt said programs that use cognitive behavioral therapy can work to directly reduce students’ violence involvement. 

The Crime Lab has been working with Chicago Public Schools to identify, test and scale promising programming to reduce students’ gun violence involvement and criminal justice exposure and support their success in high school and beyond.

“The average student spends about 20 percent of their time in school and 80 percent of their time outside of school,” Bhatt said. “Teachers and school staff are the frontline for those that have to address the effects of trauma exposure — including the impact of gun violence — without being able to directly reduce that exposure themselves.”

The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia responded to the alarming rate of gunfire with additional counseling services for youth victims, CBS Philly reported.

In New York City, parents and community members rallied outside of City Hall on Oct. 10, demanding an end to gun violence.

Eve Hendricks, who lost her son to gun violence, asks for increased school safety so students can learn without worrying about being attacked. 

Hendricks said kids should be able to go to school without worrying about being shot, and had a question for the parents of perpetrators.  

“Parents,” Hendricks said at a recent rally, “how dare you raise monsters that take the lives of our kids.”

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