The Alachua County NAACP branch President Evelyn Foxx and Gainesville Police Department Chief Tony Jones called for a community-wide meeting Tuesday evening to address the recent spike in juvenile gang violence in the county over the last two weeks.
“She felt the urgency because of the safety, not only of the young people, but also the people who live in the community,” said Yvonne Hinson-Rawls, education chair of the Alachua County NAACP executive board.
These recent incidents of crime include bricking vehicles and homes, as well as fights between gang members.
“The thing that alarmed the chief more is that they now have guns,” Hinson-Rawls said. “It used to be bricks and pipes and other kinds of tools, but now they have quite a few guns on the street.”
Chief Jones will put together a committee within the next couple of days. This committee will consist of Alachua County school board members, county commissioners, and community ministers.
Once the committee is formed, it will have 90 days to come back with a plan to prevent further gang violence at the youth level.
“From talking to a lot of kids in schools, there seems to be some acrimony, some differences between a couple of the neighborhoods,” said Will Halvosa, DMC and community coordinator for the Gainesville Police Department.
One of GPD’s objectives is to not immediately turn to arresting these juveniles for their misbehavior, but Halvosa said there still needs to be accountability and consequences.
These alternative methods to correct these behaviors include counselling in schools and civil citation eligibility.
“When you take someone out of school for ten days, they lose — I mean they are already struggling to begin with, so I think a lot of times that behavior, to us, is systematic of some maybe other contributing factor, maybe some unmet needs, maybe some dysfunction in their family,” Halvosa said.
Alachua County Commissioner Charles Chestnut IV was another community leader in attendance at the meeting on Tuesday who will be on the committee that Jones will form.
“It was very educational last night to learn about the local gangs in our community, which blew me away,” Chestnut said. “I’ve been living here all of my life, I never thought that we had gangs that might be tied to national gangs.”
Chestnut said there is a deficit in after school programs and recreational facilities that have room for improvement.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel, the wheel is already there,” Chestnut said. “We can improve it and make things better.”
Chestnut said it is important to have them know that somebody cares about their future.
“These kids are doing what they have to do to survive, that’s what that is to me” Hinson-Rawls said. “If we really want to fix it, the people in the powerful positions would do something about it.”
Hinson-Rawls says these community leaders need to find a way these young men and women good work and to get them the right education.
“These are bright kids,” Hinson-Rawls said. “If they can organize a gang and do all that stuff, these are bright kids.”