Gun deaths among U.S. youth rose 50% in just two years. Black children and teens were roughly five times as likely as their White counterparts to die from gunfire in 2021, according to the Pew Research Center.
In Chicago, young people are leading efforts to reverse these trends.
Derrianna Ford, a freshman at Harold Washington College who works with Communities United, said she got involved because her grandmother goes to the group’s meetings. Five years later, she’s proud of the work she’s been able to accomplish with the group.
One of those accomplishments, she said, was getting school resource officers, or police officers who work in schools, out of her high school. A student’s relationship with police outside of school can mirror that inside of a school — so if a student has a negative interaction outside, they’re not going to look to SROs for help, she said.
Ford said removing the SROs from her school can create a more comfortable environment for students.
Yaretzi Salcedo, a member of the Chicago Public Schools Student Advisory Council who works with the Mikva Challenge, works on mental health resources for students — something she said is crucial to the public safety conversation.
“Mental health goes hand in hand with public safety,” Salcedo said.
Inspired by mental health safety concerns she sees firsthand, the Senn High School junior said there’s much to do to make schools safer. That could look like more safety alerts for students and parents, better training for security officers or more restorative practices for students who get in trouble.
Lyric Harris, with Bold Resistance Against Violence Everywhere or B.R.A.V.E., said one way to increase safety is to extend the hours for community centers.
“We need those longer hours so we can stay busy,” Harris. “We don’t have things to do.”
Xahlil Morris, with GoodKids MadCity, said that the Peace Book is another step in the right direction. It can provide resources to people that need them, including youth-focused events or mental health help.