Jalisa said she would not allow guns to be displayed in her company
What would you do if a student you knew pulled out a gun at a party? That was just one of the questions raised at a focus group Aug. 28 at Jefferson High School. The group brought together Jefferson High School students and summer interns from Multnomah County and the city's planning bureau in a discussion that ranged from fighting and drugs, to how to respond in dangerous situations.
The group was organized by STRYVE, a federally funded health initiative based at Multnomah County. STRYVE has been reaching out to youth on the street as well is in focus groups to learn more about their views on violence.
The neighborhood has been the scene of several shootings, including the shooting death of Deandre Clark, and injuries to students after a football game at Jefferson.
Parents may be surprised to learn that their students have seen fights, drugs and guns as part of their everyday life. Students said it's not rare, for example, for someone to show you a gun.
"I used to be scared, but now I don't care," said Jalisa. "It's best to mind your own business."
"This boy I know pulled out a gun at a party," said Delayja. "I said, 'What are you doing? Why are you doing that?' and he told me to mind my own business."
Reporting a gun would label you as a snitch, several students agreed. "They're going to get mad at you. They'll shoot you."
As the discussion progressed, however, students expressed some anger at being placed in danger. And they looked for other ways to solve the problem.
"I don't want that reputation on me," Davaunte said. "I'm going to persuade them not to bring a gun around me."
Jalisa, a Jefferson High school student, said she wants to improve safety for students
"They'd better use it on me because if they pull a gun on me I'm going to fight them," Jalisa said. "If he just pulls it out to make a point or something, then it's going to be bad on him"
Marius Ibuye a youth planner with the City of Portland asked if anyone would call the police.
"Yes," Jalisa said. "I think I should get the police to handle that because I really don't want to go to jail."
The police treat you differently depending on your race, the students said. Stephan said he fears that calling the police will get him labeled as a gang member.
"If I get shot, and I'm Black, they're going to say it's gang-related," he said. "My uncle told me that you can't even go to the hospital because then police will show up at your house. If you're Black it doesn't matter – you're a gang member."
Ibuye asked if students feel safer when more police are present.
"I would feel like I lived in a bad neighborhood," Stephan said. "Why do the police have to be everywhere?"
Delayja agreed. "That gets irritating."
However, they agreed police were needed in some situations.
Davaunte recalled an incident where police were called to stop a fight. Once they saw who was fighting, he said, "They just said, 'Oh it's her again. She's always fighting,' and they left."
Stephan said the most he can do to stop fights would be to talk to people. "I can encourage them to want to change, but that's the most I can do."
The group looked at other possible ways to prevent fights and violence. Better lighting on the street and at community centers and parks might help.
More positive activities would help decrease violence, Stephan said. Other students agreed, saying young people get bored with going to the same places and doing the same things.
Amelia said students need help to get jobs and to learn to drive. "Things that will benefit us," she said. "We're not kids any more."
Finally, the group reached the concensus that everyone needs to speak out more and use the power of their own voices to increase the peace.
Multnomah Youth Commissioner Jose Lopez Delgado, was one of the interns leading the group. A co-founder of the Youth Against Violence group, he helped launch last April's Rob Ingram Youth Summit Against Violence. Since fall 2011, Youth against Violence also has been holding focus groups across the city to give young people a say in how we deal with violence. YAV has just won a $100,000 grant from State Farm Youth advisory group to continue its work.
Dwight Myrick, who works for Multnomah County's STRYVE program, organized Wednesday's group along with Marius Ibuye. STRYVE is a federally-funded health initiative designed to support communities working to end youth violence. Youth violence is seen a health problem because so many young people are killed, or injured by violence. The Centers for Disease Control reports that violence is the leading cause of death for Black youth.
STRYVE is funded to work in North and Northeast Portland, because statistics show youth in North and Northeast are more likely to be affected by violence. The first two years of the STRYVE federal grant cover listening and community outreach.