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Stories about kids, guns and how to stop the violence. Precious Lives, created by 371 Productions, is a 2-year, 100-part weekly radio series about gun violence and young people in the Milwaukee area. The series applies a public health lens to each story to help listeners understand the full scope of the problem: who are the victims and the shooters; how are the weapons obtained; and what can we change about the environment that contributes to violence in Milwaukee?

Milwaukee Girl's Shooting Death Sparks Huge Outpouring From Community

Emily Forman / Precious Lives
Nate Hamilton giving Za’layia Jenkins' mother, Destiny, a hug.";

Hundreds of people turned out on Milwaukee’s north side Tuesday evening to honor Za’layia Jenkins on what would have been her tenth birthday. Earlier this month, a bullet struck her while she was watching TV; and on Monday, she died.

The shot was the result of a gun fight outside.

Credit Family photo
Za’layia Jenkins

Friends and neighbors gathered on the front lawn of Za’layia Jenkins’ home near 15th and Meinecke. Many people held signs that read “Stop the Violence” and "Pray for Peace.”

Also in attendance were several dozen Milwaukee police officers. They had been patrolling the neighborhood earlier this month, and Jenkins asked a police captain if she could keep her safe. The captain promised she would, then the girl got caught in the crossfire as a shootout ensued outside her home.  

Za’layia’s great aunt, Ramona Boone, stepped onto the porch and pleaded with the crowd to help find the suspects.  “Anybody who knows anything, please, I’m asking to please come forward. It might be your son, your daughter, your brother, please. It’s a mother who’s suffering right now and what you can do to help in her suffering is please turn that person in,” Boone said.

The crowd then marched around the neighborhood and chanted: “We are fighting for the right to grow up.” 

Steven Wofford lives around the corner and heard the hail of gunfire last week. He says it’s a sound he hears too often.

“But the other night was the worst I’ve heard, just rapid gunfire, rapid gunfire and I knew somebody had to be shot, the way that sounded,” Wofford said.

Credit Marti Mikkelson
Neighbors embrace near a memorial.

When he hears shots, Wofford said he usually investigates, especially after the most recent commotion.

“I got up and came down to see what was going on and check on the kids. They were putting her in an ambulance and it just tore me apart,” he said.

While Wofford said violence in the neighborhood doesn’t surprise him anymore, Sonia Tatum was taken aback. She called the shooting appalling.

“Normally it is quiet over here so I was really shocked and this is disappointing because all of our young, African-American kids are dying because of senseless stuff that our men are doing,” Tatum said.

Tatum said she calls the police when she hears shots ring out in the neighborhood.

Neighbor James Taylor said when he hears gunfire, he ducks for cover in his own home. “Hit the floor, lay on the floor and wait for everything to calm down. Then, you hear the police coming. Then, we come to the front door and look out and peek out but you have to be careful how you do that,” Taylor said.

Taylor called on his neighbors to report suspicious activity and work together to end violence in the community.

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