CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Community members in Charlotte say adults can no longer sit on the sidelines when it comes to stopping the youth violence the city has seen over the pandemic.
The message comes after a 16-year-old was killed in a triple shooting and Monday, CMPD announced officers arrested a 14-year-old as the suspect.
“There was a 14-year-old kid charged with murder, when are we going to wake up," asked Belton Platt, leader of the Alternatives to Violence program in Charlotte.
Platt was one of the multiple community leaders who came together for a press conference on the matter on Tuesday.
"Where are our consciences," Platt asked. "When are we going to realize if we don’t do something about this our young people will be extinct?"
Platt said youth violence is an adult problem.
“I am tired of hearing of people say, 'these young people out there are crazy, I don’t want nothing to do with them,'" Platt said. "Well, we ought to have something to do with them."
Charlotte NAACP president Corine Mack said when she talks to kids in areas that are experiencing violence, they say they feel ignored.
"I’ve had kids tell me that they're invisible," Mack said. "'Nobody sees us.'”
Mack said she remembers seeing an immediate change in a child after speaking with them.
"That little boy was crying like nobody's business and holding on to me for dear life, and all I kept saying was I love you," Mack said. "Our children are hurting.”
Platt said he's seen the same when speaking to kids on the street.
"They could have two guns, they could be drug dealers, but when we come with respect, and we come showing them love, they become children,” Platt said.
Platt said this tragic incident of violence only proves these kids need more of the community to care, too.
"Quit looking at these children as monsters," Platt said. "They are human beings and somewhere in their lives they have missed the love, the support, the encouragement of people.”
Because our youth end up in schools, the Charlotte NAACP and others at the press conference said they’d like the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools district to let them come into schools and work with the kids to help prevent violence, hoping they'll be on board with the idea.
“The board of education was not prepared for what happened on the first week of school,” Annette Albright, with the Charlotte NAACP, said.
The first week of school at CMS ended with multiple fights and students from three different high schools arrested for having guns on campus.
"A lot of the violence and chaos we saw could have been prevented,” Albright said.
Albright said they saw it coming.
"These kids have been out of school for 18 months and they're totally disengaged from education,” Albright said.
It's true, learning was a struggle during the pandemic. End-of-year scores for CMS showed declines in every subject, in every grade level, in every racial group as students tried to learn virtually.
"What they have been doing is having a lot of spats and arguments of social media," Albright said
Albright said all the kids needed to act on it was the school bus.
"When they get to school, they're going to link up to settle these disputes,” Albright said.
Albright said they’d like to partner with CMS to help the district get ahead of these disputes.
"Allow the public back into public school," Albright said.
Mack said the idea is to go into schools and be a support system.
"First part of this training really is listening," Mack said. "What we have learned is that young people want to release some of the things on their hearts and their minds."
Platt said he'd also like to teach them the penalties of crimes they may be engaged in.
"A lot of the youth don’t even have a clue,” Platt said.
Albright said especially after this incident, the community needs to reach kids where they are to stop the violence.
"The board of education cannot do it alone," Platt said.
WCNC Charlotte has reached out to CMS to ask if they’d be open to allowing outside organizations to come in and help combat youth violence. As of the publishing of this story, CMS has not responded yet.