We Can Make Inner Cities Safer And It Ain’t Through Gun Control

Got to talk to kids.

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It’s not guns that shoot and kill. It’s messed up people, like that kid in Highland Park. He even boasted on social media that he was going to do it. We’ve got to start mentoring troubled kids to get to them before they get to that level of violence. Milwaukee community leader Andre Robinson tells us the success he’s had with his program.

Robinson: Violent crime has been rising at unprecedented levels for two years now, in cities all over the country. Each weekend, we see more bloodshed — and this past Fourth of July holiday weekend is no exception.

According to many prognosticators, the recent surge in violent crime that has ravaged small and big cities alike will only worsen during the summer months. While many ignore this deadly wave and others prepare for its aftermath, we hope to stop it in its tracks. Our Violence Free Zone (VFZ) initiative, a unique youth violence-reduction/mentoring program in areas with high level crime and violence, holds the key.

Over the years, VFZ has served as a national model with a demonstrable track record of not only reducing violent incidents in schools and youth involvement in drugs and gangs, but also increasing attendance rates and academic performance.

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Just one year after Bob Woodson and I started a Violence-Free Zone in 2005, the worst school in Milwaukee – notorious for high suspension rates and violence – had become the safest.

In fact, in the first two years of implementation, the Milwaukee public school system experienced a 23% reduction in violent incidents. According to the Milwaukee Police Department (2010), the number of auto thefts decreased by 25% between academic years 2006-2008 in the neighborhoods where VFZ was implemented in the local school.

We employ youth advisors— moral mentors and character coaches— who are from the same zip code as the students they serve. As a result, mentors have vital internal “street” knowledge and can easily identify the troublemakers. They are also able to gain the trust and respect of the youth, because the young people can see themselves— and the internal and external challenges they face— in their mentors in a way they cannot in their teachers or counselors.

Our mentors—once part of the problem but now part of the solution – take on the role of surrogate fathers and mothers, teaching valuable lessons and serving as real-life examples of the consequences of both a predatory and a productive lifestyle. Through their own transformation, our mentors inspire the students who were once leaders in self-destruction to become ambassadors of peace in their schools, neighborhoods, and families.

Growing up, my own role models were gang bangers and drug dealers. I know all too well that—without a positive figure in the home— many children easily fall through the cracks.

I was determined to create an environment for the students to see that, although I may not have known exactly what they were going through, my situation was similar to theirs and I could share with them what I did to get out of it…

We already know how to make our communities safer. We’ve done it before, and with support, we can make an even greater impact and ultimately help every neighborhood thrive.

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