Education, reducing childhood trauma, transportation, emotional support, economic empowerment, mentorship and improving the appearance of places that attract crime were some of the ideas to reduce gun violence put forward by the Chattanooga Mayor's Youth Council on Wednesday.
The youth council — which is comprised of 51 juniors and seniors representing 20 different public and private high schools in Hamilton County — has worked in groups since the school year began to develop potential projects to alleviate gun violence in Chattanooga, an issue they collectively chose to tackle. The students convened at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga Wednesday evening to present those ideas to a panel of local experts.
"We want our city to know that we care deeply about the issue of gun violence. We may not have all the answers, but we're here tonight to start and continue a conversation," youth council member Vivika Cheemakoti said during Wednesday's event.
Panelists started by responding to questions and sharing some of their own experiences with gun violence before youth council members took the stage. The panelists included Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke, Public Safety Coordinator Troy Rogers, Assistant Police Chief Danna Vaughn and Dr. Dave Bhattacharya, a pediatric trauma surgeon at the Children's Hospital at Erlanger.
Elijah Miller-Parker, who spoke on behalf of his group, said economic empowerment for disadvantaged youth and people with criminal records would have the greatest impact.
"There is a direct correlation between crime, poverty and unemployment. Only 31% of former felons were employed after two months," he said, suggesting that tax breaks, training, and incentives for employers to hire and train ex-convicts could help prevent future acts of violence.
Other common themes included a need for more mentorship programs, school counselors and education both in school and throughout the community.
Berke said he loved how students targeted gun violence upstream by looking at "all these different ways that we have to attack the problem."
"That's the only way we're going to continue to make a dent in the issue," he said.
The event comes several months after the Times Free Press wrote a series about the cost of gun violence in Chattanooga. At a forum after the series ran, local residents discussed possible solutions to gun violence and causes of the violence with ideas ranging from poverty to toxic masculinity and a fascination with guns.
The Mayor's Youth Council recruits a new cohort of high school juniors and seniors each school year. Previous councils focused on voting, homelessness, mental health awareness, gang violence, climate change and environmental issues, among other issues.
Contact Elizabeth Fite at email@example.com or 423-757-6673.