The Seattle Urban League this week unveiled a ground-breaking response to the sharp rise in suspected gang shootings this year, even as youth violence prevention officials in both Seattle and Portland are grappling with the crisis.
Suspected gang-related gun violence has so far left six dead in King County, and a record 46 Portland Police Gang Enforcement response call-outs in Multnomah County, including a handful of injuries – but as yet no fatalities.
"The most important thing is that while we should be celebrating the history of Sen. Obama, what we are witnessing is kids killing kids at an unprecedented level," said Seattle Urban League President James Kelly. "Too many of our kids are dying, too many of our kids are being shot."
Kelly convened a press conference bringing together activists, youth affected by violence and their families to announce the new initiative, Project Interruption.
Phase one of the effort is a detailed plan for outreach to youth affected by the violence and the coordination for immediate grief counseling to all who ask for it.
"The Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle not only wants to facilitate the grief counseling youth need, we want to encourage them to support and uplift one another," according to the official Project Interruption document.
Phase two is a community-based youth activity and engagement effort with technology forums, writing forums, arts forums and family outreach forums.
"The goal of Phase two is to give voice to our young people; show them that they are not alone, and that there are more constructive ways of expressing how one feels," the document says.
The efforts – involving faith-based organizations, educators and artists – are scheduled to kick off in September.
Meanwhile in Portland, last week's meeting of the Youth Violence Prevention Task Force drew nearly 50 participants, including newly-transferred Assistant U.S. Prosecuting Attorney Fred Slaughter, who worked extensively on gang-related prosecutions in his most recent position in Los Angeles.
Northeast Precinct Commander Jim Ferris delivered a worried report about the flurry of injuries from shootings and a stabbing during the previous week, and demanded that participants in the Task Force detail exactly what further outreach they would be doing in the coming weekend to ensure no further mayhem.
Officers reported that a fifth detective has been assigned to the Gang Intervention Team, and confirmed that violent incidents have been rising steadily since 2006.
Of the 46 incidents investigated by the gang squad this year, 14 have occurred since July 1. Two shootings and a stabbing were reported on Aug. 16 alone. Last year a total of 40 shots-fired calls were reported – with no fatalities.
Portland Youth Gang Task Force meetings are open to the public, and are held on alternate weeks with the location rotating between the Northeast and Southeast precincts.
In Seattle, at the press conference Aug. 22, Kelly described Project Interruption as "a back to school wake up call that there is more to fear than WASL scores on our radar."
Also at the press conference were Laura "Piece" Kelley-Jahn, executive director of the Think Big Foundation, which runs after-school programs and alternatives to gang activity; June Adams, the mother of Brandon Wilkins, a young man killed accidentally by a friend playing with a gun; Kyle Matthews, 14, and Caela Palmer, 15.
"There was a young girl, Caela Palmer, who said she'd gone to four funerals," Kelly told The Skanner. "Why is a 15 year old going to funerals, instead of celebrating the summer, and life?"
The youths told reporters that they were friends with 15-year-old Pierre LaPoint, shot to death on National Night Out, Tuesday, Aug. 5.
"I went to Pierre LaPoint's funeral and I saw so many kids there – hundreds of kids," Kelly said.
"I guess I'm doing something different – this project isn't about at risk youth — we have to take the hands of hundreds of kids, Black kids and others, we have to take the hands of parents."
For more information contact the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle at 206-461-3792.
For information about the Portland Youth Gangs Task Force, call Tom Peavey at 503-823-4180.
In Seattle Youth, Family Activities Proposed
The Urban League's Project Interruption includes an innovative series of youth and family activities designed to help youth and adults grieve over violent incidents and find ways to express personal feelings in lasting, artistic ways. The four programs proposed are called Sharing Youth Voices.
In the "Technology Forum," 10 to 15 youth will be trained as "community recorders" using digital cameras equipment to capture narrative experiences from community members affected by violence. The finished projects will be made accessible through the Internet.
In the "Art Forum," eight to 10 youth would work with local artists to create a mural serving as a memorial to victims of violence and an inspiration for peers and families, on the grounds of the Northwest African American Museum.
With the "Writing Forum," young people will be invited to create writing projects at weekly "safe places" set up at Garfield High School, Franklin High School, Cleveland High School, and Rainier Beach High School.
At the "Family Forum," community members of all ages who have been affected by violence and the immediate families of those killed by youth will be encouraged to participate as a group. Outreach efforts would also include individuals interested in serving as community mentors and family support workers