NASHVILLE, Tenn. - It is a number that is almost incomprehensible. In 2017, more than 100 people have been shot and killed in Nashville and the year is still weeks from being over.
The victims are our friends and our neighbors, and they are leaving behind broken families and broken communities. City leaders are struggling to grapple with the problem especially when so many of the victims are teenagers.
Nashville’s first homicide of 2017 happened on January 9. Police say Jared Morrell was stabbed at his apartment on Porter Road. Just five days later, the city would experience its first teen shooting deaths of the year. Eduardo Trego, age 16, and Jonathan Martinez, age 15, were both killed in the same shooting on Piccadilly Road. No one could’ve predicted then the pain that would soon follow for so many other families throughout the course of this deadly year.
“It’s our own kids shooting our own kids,” says Al Gangi, whose 14-year-old son Clayton was the city’s 57th homicide victim.
Clayton was with friends on June 24 of this year when police say one of them pulled out a gun. The gun fired and now Clayton is gone. The teenagers who shot Clayton had such little disregard for his life that they couldn’t be bothered to even call for help.
“He was shot once in the side. The bullet tore up his insides, and he bled out. They pushed him out of the car at the hospital and left him there to die,” Al Gangi says about the final moments of his son’s life.
It is a story repeated too many times in too many different ways.
“We need to stop all these guns and this violence,” says Sahtika Begley, who lost her daughter, Deberianah, earlier this year.
Deberianah was celebrating her cousin’s birthday at the Cayce Homes on a warm Sunday afternoon in October. The 16-year-old was hit once by a bullet during a drive-by shooting. She died in her mother’s arms.
“No mother should ever have to go through that. They took her. Something I will never get back,” Sahtika says.
Of the 103 deadly shootings so far this year, 25 of the victims have been under the age of 20.
So how do we fix this?
Perhaps no one is trying harder to answer that question than Nashville Mayor Megan Barry.
“As the Mayor of this city, I absolutely feel a personal responsibility for the safety of our citizens. This weighs on my mind everyday,” Mayor Barry says.
While in this moment the homicide rate seems unfathomable, Mayor Barry says the city’s crime numbers are similar to the early 2000’s.
“There isn’t one answer, and it takes an entire community to wrap their arms around this,” she added.
So what’s causing the recent spike in homicides?
Part of the problem, city officials say, is tied to Nashville’s growth. As neighborhoods gentrify, those who were already struggling economically are being pushed further away from the urban core. That then makes it harder for them to access public transportation and harder for them to access jobs, making crime seem more appealing.
“We’ve tried to direct resources to places we think can have the most impact,” Mayor Barry says about efforts to slow down the violence.
For the mayor, part of the solution is policing. Seventy more officers have been hired in the last year, and 22 of them are focused primarily on community policing and foot patrols. But the real soul searching and hard work lies with the city’s youth.
“We know that if a child is engaged and busy and with adults mentoring them, their outcomes will be better,” she adds.
To keep kids off the streets, the city is trying to get additional funds to have community centers open longer.
“Having those community police officers do help facilitate conversations with youth and community members that can see a decrease in crime. They’re much more aware of what’s going on if they aren’t in a police car, they’re walking around,” the Mayor says.
And yet city officials and city police can not fix this problem themselves. In the months since losing his son, Al Gangi has tried talking to other parents and other teenagers hoping they will listen to the lessons he learned. Admitting that he should’ve been more involved in his son’s life, should’ve done more about the snap chats his son was receiving where kids were showing off their guns. Should’ve known that Clayton was using Uber to get around because he wasn’t old enough to have a license.
“I want parents to open their eyes and say, ‘My kid is doing something wrong.’”