It felt a little like a pep rally outside of Northwest Academy of Law High School in north St. Louis as about 400 students, community leaders and members of law enforcement representatives marched down Riverview Boulevard during an event geared toward reducing violence.
Banners waved and a cheerleading crew shouted things like: “We are respectable!”
“The message today was to put down the guns and stop the violence so that we can actually live our life,” said senior Aja McCoy. “I’ve had some friends who have died because of teen violence. So, they’re trying to prevent kids and teens dying this summer.”
During a panel discussion before the march on Thursday morning, students received a consistent message to brush off petty slights before they turn violent.
“It’s very important for them to understand that peace really starts from within,” said Principal Valerie Carter-Thomas. “If we really want to make a peaceful environment it’s more than just about policy, people and police. It’s really about decisions that we make every day and empowering ourselves to make peaceful decisions all the time.”
Carter-Thomas said schools can serve as community hubs, bringing together resources and mentoring programs geared toward helping students reach their full potential.
While speaking to students, Major Ronnie Robinson, commander of St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department’s North Patrol, warned students against making snap decisions that can lead to violence and change their lives forever. He also reminded them that they often set examples for their siblings and other young people, and preventing a cycle of violence can start by becoming positive role models.
“They have to take on accountability for themselves and their actions,” Robinson said. “They’re the key to helping us turn the violence around in this city and help us as a police department, as a community together, to stop the violence that’s occurring too consistently in our community.”
Delivering that message before students go on summer vacation can be critical, as well.
“Historically across the nation, as the summer months come kids are out of school and there’s more activity in the streets as opposed to the winter months,” Robison said. “So, naturally there’s going to be more incidents in cities across the nation.”
This week St. Louis police announced that the nearby Wells-Goodfellow neighborhood, the site of eight of the city’s 44 homicides this year, is the department’s latest policing hot spot. The term refers to supplementing officers usually assigned to the area with police from city-wide divisions in a focused effort to reduce crime.
City leaders also recently announced that they’re seeking support from the business community to expand its summer jobs program. Wednesday, JPMorgan Chase announced a $100,000 donation to Stl Youth Jobs, which is geared toward finding employment for 16- to 23-year olds from high poverty and high crime areas in St. Louis. So far, officials say more than 1,000 people have applied for the 500 positions for this summer.