ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Following the shooting of five teens in Rochester Tuesday night, community activists are calling on the community to come together for change.
This year, there has already been more than 63 shootings involving youth under the age of 20, according to the Rochester Police Open Data Portal. But it’s not just gun violence that we’re seeing.
Youth have been both the victims and suspects in a large range of crimes, from police car chases, to fights at schools, to students getting shot while walking to the bus stop.
Sirena Cotton, the Founder of Roc the Peace, lost her son when he was 16-years-old. She said waking up and hearing five teens had been shot was tough.
“It’s like a Grand Theft Auto game, they’re stealing all these cars, and they’re shooting people. It’s crazy,” Cotton said. “What could be going on in someone’s mind to ride by a group of females, teenagers, little girls, and start shooting. We’re praying for them and their souls because something has to be done.”
Roc the Peace, a grassroots organization, provides mentoring programs for youth who have been affected by gun violence. While they have been busy in the recent months, Cotton said there are so many local organizations that supporting teens and their families. She encourages people to get involved in them.
“We need to stop talking about what needs to be done. And do something. I mean, there’s plenty of organizations, plenty of groups, plenty of folks out here, just join in somewhere, wherever you fit in,” Cotton said. “I’m legally blind, but that’s not gonna stop me from being out here and doing my part. So I just asked other people, what’s your excuse?”
Miquel Powell, the Executive Director of the Reentry and Community Development Center, says he believes change will happen when the city is more outraged at what’s happening.
“I think the community has to be fed up for one and I think that our elected officials have to be as equally as fed up, right? Somebody’s got to be mad to where you’re seeing so many homicides, especially black men and women that’s being shot and murdered in our community,” Powell said.
“I think that the level of violence that we see doesn’t match the level or the intensity in the in the response, like there’s no sense of urgency to address it.”
Powell said he believes it’s important to invest in more preventative measures, including addressing children’s behaviors at a young age. Powell knows first hand how important this can be.
“When I was 21 years old, I went to prison for a violent shooting myself, which was a high profile shooting. And it didn’t just start there… that day that I went to prison. I was having trouble from 13, 14, 15-years-old as well,” he said.
Powell worries that the violence among youth could impact their futures, which is why he says it’s important plans are in place to help support kids at an early age who may be acting out.
“Those are indicators to future criminal behavior, in my opinion. So that’s why I talked about more preventative measures. And when we started to see those behaviors in young folks at early age, we had to figure out how can we intervene?,” Powell said. “It’s going to start with identifying children, who for some reason, whether it’s due to trauma, or any number of things that could possibly be leading to delinquency, once we identify what the delinquency is, those children are what we will call at risk, and we need to focus on them and try to give them more resources and more support.”
To better support youth and the ongoing violence, local activist groups like Roc the Peace and Community Justice Initiative (CJI), are teaming up together to offer resources. The group is called the Community Safer Task Force Coalition.
Antonia Wynter, a community activist with CJI, said they are trying to “think outside the box” to address ways to combat the violence because they are continuing to see it happen.
“We see a lot of unprecedented things happening. A lot of times it’s the young men out here and now we have all these ladies, all these young ladies, and I think sometimes what I think happens is if you have a young lady dating a guy and he’s in a gang, you know, they end up getting involved in the same activity to kind of show their level of loyalty,” Wynter said.
She said the groups are specifically looking at proactive measures to help keep youth from being victims of violence and adding ways for them to get involved in jobs so they have less time on their hands. Wynter added anyone who has a heart for the community is welcome to come and help them think of solutions.
“We’re all trying to be one voice for the same common goal, which is to curb the violence. In reality, we will never completely end all violence, but if we can save one child, everything we are doing, all of our efforts, will be worth it,” Wynter said.
On Tuesday night, the Monroe County Legislature passed legislation that will provide funding to many local nonprofit organizations, including Roc the Peace and Rise Up Rochester.