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'You can't arrest your way out of this': Muskegon Heights works to reduce cycle of youth gun violence

The Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center met with the community for a listening session Tuesday, identifying violence drivers and finding possible solutions.

MUSKEGON HEIGHTS, Mich. — Tuesday, the Michigan Youth Violence Prevention Center held a listening session in Muskegon Heights. The goal was to meet with community members to discuss youth gun violence prevention. 

"So today, when they asked a question about what drives some of the things that have happened," said Janet Robinson, a community advocate and member of G.U.N.S (Gaining Unity Through Nonviolent Solutions), "We got a lot of gun shops, we got a lot of guns in the street, we got a lot of youth who come from single family homes, but you can correct that."

Robinson helped write the grant to bring MI-YVPC to Muskegon Heights. The CDC-funded center works with community partners and youth to prevent gun violence across Michigan. 

"One of the people here, she's a physician," said Marc Zimmerman, co-director for the Institute for Firearm Injury Prevention at the University of Michigan, "And she said she's heard kids say, 'I don't have to really worry about any of these things, I'm not gonna live past 18 anyway.' We have to flip that and that narrative. It's imperative that we create opportunities for kids."

The listening session also looked at community programs already working to prevent youth violence, and what barriers they see. 

"Breaking down some of the economic issues," said Maurice Sain, Muskegon Heights police chief, "Some of the issues as it relates to education and healthcare for black and brown people, the poverty level, maybe installing some parenting programs and just trying to introduce kids to positive outreaches."

Sain said the next phase is involving youth actually into the conversation, to be part of the solution process. 

"We all have to take accountability," said Sain. "It’s no one person’s problem, no silver bullet. You can't arrest your way out of this situation. We have to come together as a community."

MI-YVPC plans to identify a community advisory board for work going forward, as well as interacting with the youth. 

"We'll look at police incident data, we'll look at some other kinds of data that we'll be collecting with them to create the evidence base," said Zimmerman, "It's necessary to really change, change the narrative and to move the needle."

Robinson said a big component to the solution is education. 

"Some youth have access to guns," said Robinson, "They take a gun because they see brothers or sisters or some other people with it. They shoot, and they don't realize that it's final. It's not something you can bounce back from. We need to educate. We need to make sure we have those safety gun locks. We need to make sure that people are just safe in general."

RELATED VIDEO: 300 illegally-owned guns recovered in Grand Rapids so far in 2022

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