Minority North Texas kids are more likely to be shot than white kids

Four out of every 5 kids killed with a gun in North Texas is a minority. That’s significantly more than the percentage of children of color in the region’s population.

By Caroline Love, KERA NewsDecember 21, 2023 9:45 am, ,

From KERA News:

Four out of every five kids killed with a gun in North Texas is a minority — that’s a lot higher than the number of children of color living in the area.

Close to 2 million young people live in Dallas, Tarrant, Collin and Denton counties, the four largest counties in North Texas, according to data from the U.S. Census. About 65% of the area’s youth are Black, Hispanic or Asian. But a KERA analysis found that about 80% of the kids aged 17 and under who died from gun violence in the DFW area in a one-year period ending Nov. 1, 2023 were children of color.

Holiday intervention

Students at Ignite Community School in Fort Worth were visited by a special guest before the holidays. The visitor, who had a beard and wore a big red suit trimmed with white fur, entered the school to gasps and cheers of “Santa!” from the eager young crowd.

Santa came prepared thanks to a group called Mothers of Murdered Angels, which sponsored the holiday event where he was the guest of honor. The children received gifts, including new bicycles for youngest children. There was also plenty of juice and frosted cookies to go around.

Melinda Hamilton co-founded Mothers of Murdered Angels with her daughters Keisha Mackey and Jaquita Alston. The family has lost several loved ones to gun violence, including Mackey’s 18-year-old son Derek. Mackey said he was shot and killed three years ago in Arlington.

Alston was close with her nephew, who she called “Little D.” Her favorite memory with him was their last Christmas together. She got him a Tommy Hilfiger sweater.

“He just jumped up off the bed and gave me the biggest hug and kiss on my jaw,” Alston said.

Losing her nephew motivates Alston to do the work she does with Mothers of Murdered Angels. She hopes to educate children about gun violence and bullying to prevent deaths like Derek’s.

Social disparities

KERA’s analysis of data from county medical examiners in North Texas found that the leading cause of death for children in North Texas from November 2022 to November 2023 was firearms — 68 out of 248 total deaths. That includes 3-year-old James Cho and 11-year-old Daniela Mendoza and her 8-year-old sister, Sofia, who were killed during a mass shooting at an Allen outlet mall in May.

The youngest child killed by gun violence was a 1-year-old Asian boy in Allen. According to a police incident report obtained by KERA, he was killed alongside his mother and 11-year-old brother. His father’s death was ruled a suicide.

Firearms were also the leading cause of death for children in the nation, according to a study of 2022 data Center for Disease Control. The study, which was published by the John Hopkins School of Public Health, also found the number of kids who were victims of gun violence has grown by 87% in the past decade.

Ari Davis, a policy advisor at the John Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said the increase in gun deaths in the country during the COVID pandemic was unprecedented.

“While it’s leveled off, we haven’t seen it returned to pre-pandemic levels,” Davis said.

He said most kids killed in gun homicides are teenagers. He also said Black teens are killed in larger numbers than their white counterparts. The gun homicide rate for Black children and teens is 20 times higher than it is for white kids, according to the John Hopkins study.

In North Texas, 25 out of 48 gun-related homicides victims were Black – only four were white. Almost all of them were teenagers.

A 15-year-old girl in Tarrant County was among the Black teens killed by gun violence. She was killed in a drive-by shooting while she was asleep in her house, according to news reports.

Another Black teenager was shot and killed in Dallas’ Oak Cliff neighborhood during an argument. Both the victim and shooter are 16 years old.

Davis says the racial disparities are related to systemic inequalities – things like poverty and lack of social services in Black and brown neighborhoods. And those inequalities have been around for a long time.

Victor Alvelais said poverty and social inequality create a snowball effect that can lead to gun violence. He’s the program director at Dallas Cred. It’s a violence interrupter group that’s part of Youth Advocate Programs working with teens and young adults in South Dallas that are vulnerable to gun violence.

Alvelais grew up in Oak Cliff at one of the affordable housing projects he serves today. He was taught to keep a gun for protection when he was a child. He later served 26 years in prison after shooting and killing a man when he was 19.

Alvelais said many kids in Oak Cliff face the horrors of gun violence at an early age, including witnessing shootings and seeing dead bodies.

“To survive this area, you have to learn internal strength that you didn’t know,” Alvelais said. “You have to use critical thinking skills that no one taught you to navigate these waters.”

Community support

Constant vigilance takes a toll on young people. Alvelais said Dallas Cred tries to relieve that burden. The group provides support by connecting youth with resources and by hosting community events.

There’s a particular event from a couple years ago that stands out to Alvelais — one where the kids got to let go and just focus on being kids.

“You just heard children laughing, giggling, using coloring books on chalk, on the sidewalk, eating hot dogs and French fries and things like that,” he said.

Social connection and support can make a difference. Davis said involving young people in their communities can help reduce their involvement with gun violence.

Keisha Mackey said that’s why she cofounded Mothers of Murdered Angels with her mom and sister. She wants the children in her community to strive for greatness — just like her son Derek, who had plans to go to Oregon State University before he was killed.

“My dream is you have a dream,” Mackey said. “You have goals, be encouraging of yourself, because once you be that way, God is going to bless you.”

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