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Teens Lament Gun Violence in City, Say It's Common


Adults and teens lament the prevalence of gun violence in Milwaukee.

Gun violence erupted again this weekend in Milwaukee.

Police say two were killed and ten people were wounded in  shootings on the north and south sides.

The weekend featured anti-violence activities as well.

Some west side residents held a picnic and dedicated a peace garden near 45th and North.

Tina Holst belongs to the Uptown Crossing Neighborhood Association.

She says the garden is a memorial to families that violent crime, including Russell Setum who murdered in front of his mother outside his home last April during an armed robbery.

“We just wanted to make a statement that we want all of the violence and the nonsense in the street to stop. Stop the killing, just stop it. So, we wanted Leona to look at this tree and see it bearing fruit. It’s a symbol of living as opposed to death,” Holst said.

The Garden of Peace includes a cherry tree named “Russell’s Hope for Peace.”

Several dozen people turned out at a community garden for a picnic and tree dedication organized by the Uptown Crossing Neighborhood Association.

There has been a rash of shootings in Milwaukee, in recent weeks.

Some victims have been young teenagers.

I visited a summer program to speak with young people about the violence surrounding them.

They were spending time at the Goldin Center on 23rd and Burleigh.

Fourteen-year-old Qhualon told me the sound of gunfire is “normal”.

“You hear it almost every day, every night, so we’re used to it, especially where I live, you hear gunshots almost every night,” Qhualon says.

I asked the youngsters what they did when they heard the shots.

Travon, 15, said, “You get down, because I got a lot of windows in my room.”

I asked the group if any of them knew someone who has been shot, either a family member or some other relative.

Thirteen year old Darnell said, “My dad, he got shot and stabbed in his stomach when he was 16.”

Dominique, 15, recounted, “I knew Darius Simmons, he went to my middle school. The little boy that got shot by that old man,” Dominique said.

Scores of youngsters attend events and programs year around the COA Goldin Center on 23rd and Burleigh.

I asked the group if, from what they are hearing, they think things are getting better or worse.

In unison, they responded ‘worse.’

“I’m Jonathon and I’m 15. Kids are out here getting shot, like every day, and ain’t nothing happening, so it’s getting worse,” Jonathon said.

“I’m Tavaree, 12. In the community where you see a lot of gunshots and a lot of people dying, it’s like people start to get scared and want to move away because they don’t want to be in that environment because next it might be them, or the gunshot might go off at somebody they care for of love and that’s what makes people sad,” he said.

I asked the group if the gunfire makes them angry.

“You’re just glad that it ain’t you,” was one response I heard.

“So what needs to happen for things to get better?”  I asked.

“We need more centers like this,” one youngster said, and added, “we need more activities for young people to do so they can stay off the streets at night and stuff,” he replied.

I told the group, their meeting space was interesting because there were so many adults present. I asked them how important adults are in their lives.

Tavaree told me, “Adults do make a difference because they’re role modeling. Everyone changes your mood and the way you feel because they’re going to be there and they care for you,” he said.

That’s a good description of Lawanda Fletcher - caring.

She says personal experience inspired her to pursue the role she plays today as teen director at the Goldin Center.

“I also experienced my peers being killed by violence, you know being killed for their jacket or for their tennis shoes. It was hard to cope with that, it was hard to deal with that,” Fletcher said.

Fletcher said perhaps most painful of all is that neighborhood violence steals innocence.

“You know, our youth, they’re not being able to experience being kids,” she said.