Coming of Age With Gun Violence

A decade of voices from Youth Radio / YR Media

Listening back to ten years of YR Media's reporting on gun violence, one major change stands out. Our conversation on mass shootings has shifted from “how to stop them” to “how to survive them” — and that’s sobering. With the U.S. averaging more than one mass shooting per day this year, we’ve come to expect the vigils, the “thoughts and prayers” tweets, high school students mourning their classmates and planning escape routes.

Another repeated pattern: each time a mass shooting happens, we turn our backs on the other forms of gun violence that shape our day-to-day lives. U.S. cities including St. Louis, Chicago and Indianapolis are becoming safer and more dangerous at the same time, as gun deaths concentrate in specific neighborhoods that are already economically isolated. About one in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by cops, according to a study from the National Academy of Sciences.

When you listen to this decade of youth stories, resist the instinct to simplify. Only when we contend with the full mix of these voices can we begin to grasp what it means to come of age in the gun violence of America.

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Mass Shootings

GUSTAVO HERNANDEZ: I feel kind of, like, scared. GEE: Can you tell me why? GUSTAVO: Because if we forgot, like, to close everything, the strangers could get us. You need to, like, lose your fear. GEE: How do you lose your fear? GUSTAVO: Like, if you want to lose your fear, you could do this: (takes deep breath).


Lockdowns The Norm For Schools With Frequent Threats
The first lockdown I remember was in third grade. At first, it was exciting, like we were playing hide and seek. But when the kid beside me explained that this was practice for if a bad man wants to hurt us, I felt sick to my stomach.

Nila Venkat, 2015

Generation Lockdown: Growing Up In The Shadow of Gun Violence
At my school they started doing this new system for lockdowns where all the teachers have a necklace that they wear and they can trigger a lockdown, and one day the first week of school, there were three false alarms. It just messed people up.

Garrison Pennington, 2015

Generation Lockdown: Growing Up In The Shadow of Gun Violence
Every time there’s a mass gathering of students, I’m super on edge, I’m looking for exits, I’m sitting in that front row, I’m monitoring those kids who I think are sort of suspicious. The fact that I can’t enjoy a homecoming rally because I’m worried about my gym getting shot up, that’s just the epitome of a really messed up gun culture.

Sierra Fang-Horvath, 2018

Teens React to Parkland, FL School Shooting
I remember saying goodbye, and it was the last time I saw her… at least alive ... and my dad said that if I ever get scared during the school day on Wednesday, or after that, I’m fine with leaving early and stuff. Because, I mean, what’s the point of being at school? We’re just freaking out half the time, because there might be a school shooter coming in.

Amanda Edwards, 2018

We Were In That School: Parkland Students Prepare To Return After Shooting
Gun training is not unimportant, but I think the best way to eliminate school shootings is to not have guns in schools. I’ve never been the biggest fan of hunting in the first place, but obviously since my high school was shot up, it soured me on hunting even more.

Matthew Harris, 2019

The Debate over Gun Training to Prevent School Shootings
I sat in the far corner of the room, my back pressed against the wall. My hands were shaking as I texted my parents. I told them we were in lockdown and that I loved them. That I didn’t know what was happening, but I loved them. I can’t count how many times I said that in those next few hours.

Mila De la Torre, 2019

After a Gunshot On Campus, My School Went Into Lockdown

Police Violence

I start walking up closer until I’m basically standing ten feet away, and I can see they’re trying to restrain Oscar Grant, and he has his hands voluntarily behind his back and he’s telling them to please not shoot him. They throw him on his belly, and then another officer stands directly on top of him, and he’s laying flat on his belly. [Sound comes up] They just shot him!

Karina Vargas, 2009

Oscar Grant Eye Witness
Trayvon Martin's were always close to home, I just had to grow up to understand how they relate to me. My Grammy's warnings have a deeper meaning now. They weren't just about rules, like looking both ways before I cross the street. She was telling me: I'm a target.

Myles Bess, 2013

Coming Of Age In The Era Of Oscar Grant And Trayvon Martin
Here’s what I’ve noticed in my East Oakland neighborhood. Young people are angry with police. But we still need them in times of danger. We should be able to call for their help, not just hope for it.

Joi Smith, 2014

In Oakland, The Disconnect Between Young People And Police
I posted on Facebook in that moment that it wasn't OK for us to not be surprised that someone could not be held accountable for the murder of an unarmed, black teenager. And so I think the note was something like, black people, I love you, I love us, we got us and our lives matter.

Alicia Garza, 2014

Black Lives Matter Slogan Becomes A Bigger Movement
I feel pain. Eighteen years old, he's about to go to college — and isn't that what we teach our kids to do? Three weeks ago, he had dreams. Now he's in the ground.

Joelle Smith, 2014

On Ferguson's Streets, Echoes Of Another Fatal Shooting
I wish I didn't have to choose sides. My friends are totally against the police because they think cops are all out to get them. On the other hand, my cousin is a police officer and also a single mother of three. Not a single day goes by that I don't worry about her safety. I would never throw a rock at a cop, but I can see why someone else would.

Laurell Glenn, 2015

Young Baltimore Native: 'This Is the Civil Rights Movement Of My Generation'

Guns On Our Streets

You hear shootings and stuff like that. You know, it really don't even really phase me no more. It's everyday life. It happens everywhere. Every city got their own dangers, their own darkness. So you can't run from it. You know, it's everywhere.

Felicia Earl, 2009

Students Find Danger Lurks To And From School
People assume that everyone with a gun wants to commit a crime, but not always. A lot of people get guns simply because they're scared. I have a friend who is considerate, generous and kind. He's fed me when I was hungry and he calls me his family. But even he bought a gun after his sister was brutally murdered for something his brother had done.

Davina La'Shay, 2012

I Just Wish Guns Were Harder To Come By
There were times when my main focus was to get a gun just so I could have a twisted version of peace of mind.

Jahlil Jackson, 2013

A Piece of Mind
There were many times when I had the money and the right connections to purchase a gun on the black market. But when it came time — I would stop and think. Do I honestly need this? At the last minute I’d buy a pair of shoes instead.

Jahlil Jackson, 2013

A Piece of Mind
I know that in my aunt's house there are three guns in the basement. Having tools for suicide completion makes it way more tempting to attempt or complete suicide.

Anonymous, 2015

When Deciding To Live Means Avoiding Guns
Do you, your parents, or any of your friends have access to a gun? / Yes. / Where is the gun kept in your home? / Typically, like, on top of the closet. / The gun isn't locked up? / No. / So, if it's OK with you, I would like to talk to your parents about how to keep the gun safely at home.

Dr. Lauren Hartman & Kasey Saeturn, 2015

When Deciding To Live Means Avoiding Guns
POP-POP-POP! And a bullet came smashing through my window, landing in the wall just inches above my head. I stopped playing outside like I used to, because I carried fear of getting hurt.

Maya Escobar, 2015

Bullet in My Bedroom
There were messages like 'I hate school' and 'No one better mess with me' next to a tiny gray pistol. But it wasn’t always clear to me why people were using a picture of a gun to express themselves.

Tylyn Hardamon, 2015

The Great Gun Emoji Debate