Date: January 23rd, 2023 1:52 PM
Author: Floppy abnormal menage
Juvenile Crime Surges, Reversing Long Decline. ‘It’s Just Kids Killing Kids.’
Violence among children has soared across the country since 2020. One consequence: a mounting toll of young victims.
Sokpini Tay at the gravesite of his daughter Kyhara in Yonkers, N.Y., on Dec. 17, 2022—what would have been her 12th birthday.
A 13-year-old boy ran through the Bronx streets one May afternoon last year, chased by two teens on a scooter. Surveillance video showed him frantically trying to open the doors of an assisted-living facility. The scooter peeled onto the sidewalk and sped toward him. A 15-year-old boy riding on the back pointed a handgun and fired multiple times, police say.
Nearby, 11-year-old Kyhara Tay stood outside a beauty salon after school, eating chicken wings and waiting for her friends to finish getting their nails done. A stray bullet struck the pavement in front of her, authorities say. Another pierced her stomach. She was rushed in critical condition to Lincoln Hospital 2 miles away, where she died that night.
Violence among children has soared across the country since 2020, a stark reversal of a decadeslong decline in juvenile crime.
In the U.S., homicides committed by juveniles acting alone rose 30% in 2020 from a year earlier, while those committed by multiple juveniles increased 66%. The number of killings committed by children under 14 was the highest in two decades, according to the most recent federal data.
Catch up on the headlines, understand the news and make better decisions, free in your inbox every day.
One consequence is a mounting toll of young victims. The number of juveniles killing other juveniles was the highest it has been in more than two decades, the 2020 federal data show.
Kyhara was one of 153 victims in New York City under the age of 18 shot in 2022, the most in at least six years and more than the 127 total minors shot in 2018 and 2019 combined, according to police data. The 13-year-old boy being pursued was unharmed, authorities say.
In New York City, police said 124 juveniles committed shootings during 2022, up from 62 in 2020 and 48 in 2019.
“The tragedy here is that we’re talking about a gunman who is too young to be called a gunman because he’s 15 years old,” said Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark after Kyhara’s death. “These ages make you weep.”
A memorial dedicated to Kyhara Tay on the corner of Westchester Avenue and Fox Street in the Bronx.
The jump comes amid an overall wave of violent crime in the first two years of the pandemic—particularly homicides and shootings—that swept through urban and rural areas alike.
Police, prosecutors and community groups attribute much of the youth violence to broad disruptions that started with the pandemic and lockdowns. Schools shut down, depriving students of structure in daily life, as did services for troubled children. Increased stress compounded a swelling mental-health crisis. Social-media conflicts increasingly turned deadly.
Easier access to firearms for juveniles has also played a role, including the rise of homemade ghost guns and a surge in illegal firearms trafficking. Heightened gang activity was a factor too in some places such as New York City, authorities say.
The nationwide wave began to ebb in 2022, but in some communities, shootings involving minors have continued to surge. In Washington, D.C., there were 214 firearm-related arrests of children in 2022, a higher count than each of the prior three years. Sixteen juveniles were shot to death last year in the district, compared with nine in 2021.
Dora Villarreal, the top prosecutor in Rock Island County, Ill., said she has never seen such young teens so frequently involved in shootings and firearms cases in her county of about 143,000. “During Covid, without school being a constant kind of stabilizing structure for many of our kids, that has helped lead unfortunately to this rise in violent crime,” she said.
Since schools reopened, the arrests have continued to rise. Ms. Villarreal said residual impacts of the pandemic—including mental-health issues, drug abuse and the breakdown of routines—have all contributed. In 2020, 36 juveniles were arrested for gun-related cases in her county. As of late December 2022, the number was 64.
A still from surveillance footage released by the New York Police Department shows the alleged gunman in Kyhara Tay’s killing on the back of a scooter on May 16, 2022.Photo: New York Police Department
Fourteen-year-old K’Mya Marshall could see the changes among the young people she knew in her West Philadelphia neighborhood over the past two years.
After months of isolation, teens became less able to cope with conflict and more frequently lashed out over small disputes, she said. With less to do, many also drifted deeper into social-media circles where guns and crime were glamorized.
Firearms were seemingly everywhere, as gun sales skyrocketed during the pandemic. Kids got them from family members, purchased them on Instagram for a few hundred dollars, or bought homemade ghost guns from other teens.
“They think it’s cool,” said K’Mya, a team leader at the Young Chances Foundation, a community organization that seeks to prevent violence. “They want that gun to define themselves and for people to be scared of them.”
Late last year, a teenage friend of hers was shot to death walking in their neighborhood. Their school held a 10-second moment of silence a few days later. Such mourning has become increasingly routine in Philadelphia as the number of juveniles murdered jumped to 81 over the past two years, from 52 in all of 2019 and 2020.
“My friend got caught in the crossfire just trying to enjoy her day,” she said.
Last year, a total of 117 juveniles were arrested for shootings in Philadelphia, up from 43 in 2019, according to police.
They include a 14-year-old boy and a 17-year-old boy both charged with murder after they were allegedly involved in a September gun battle outside a West Philadelphia recreation center in the middle of the day. Tiffany Fletcher, a 41-year-old employee of the center and a mother of three, was outside when she was fatally struck by a stray bullet.
The city council recently made permanent a 10 p.m. summertime curfew for teens from ages 14 to 17. “The new curfew law is meant to protect young people from being victims of crime while the City works towards other measures that reduce gun violence,” said City Councilor Katherine Gilmore Richardson, who proposed the measure, in a written statement.
The rise in juvenile shootings hasn’t been limited to the biggest cities. Peoria, Ill., population 112,000, saw eight juvenile homicide victims in 2021, according to police data. In 2020, there were none.
Edmund Mallqui-Burgos, chief juvenile prosecutor in Atlantic County, N.J., which includes Atlantic City, said he was struck by several recent cases where young teens who seemed to be on the right track committed shootings.
One involved a 13-year-old boy who shot and wounded two men, ages 30 and 34, in broad daylight on a busy Atlantic City street before getting into an hourlong standoff with the city’s SWAT team this past July.
Mr. Mallqui-Burgos was set to charge him as a juvenile for attempted murder—in New Jersey, prosecutors can only try juveniles as adults if they’re 15 or older. But he found out that the boy had never been involved in criminal activity before, was working a job to earn money for his family and feared for his safety during the encounter with the older men.
“This was a kid who seemed like he was doing the right thing,” Mr. Mallqui-Burgos said. “This was not a gangbanger type of situation.”
The teen, now 14, said in an interview that he’d been working for the building’s manager helping paint and clean apartments last summer. There were often drug addicts and homeless people loitering in the building, the teen said, and that day he’d asked a man to leave who didn’t live there. The man returned with two others and threatened the teen and his brother. The teen, who said he had been traumatized after seeing a shooting in the neighborhood in the summer of 2021, recounted running upstairs to his family’s apartment to get a gun. After the men struck his brother in the face and attacked him, he fired in their direction toward the ground, he said.
“I kept having flashbacks of what happened last summer and what could happen to us. I’m thinking about protecting me, and protecting my brother. I didn’t know these guys,” he said.
He pleaded guilty to fourth degree aggravated assault and second degree unlawful possession of a handgun, and was placed in an intensive probation program.
Some prosecutors and law enforcement leaders argue that the shift away from a more punitive approach for juveniles toward intervention programs and rehabilitation has gone too far and corrections are needed.
Ms. Clark, the Bronx District Attorney and a Democrat, supported a 2017 New York law that ended the automatic prosecution of 16- and 17-year-olds as adults, raising the age to 18. Most states had already passed similar “Raise the Age” laws.
Now, Ms. Clark said, she wants to be able to try more gun possession cases in criminal court, which would allow her office more authority over what sentences to seek. She said under the Raise the Age law, too many juveniles arrested on gun possession charges are being released quickly because such cases are typically sent to family court—and some of those minors are going on to commit more serious crimes or are being murdered themselves.
The Bronx County Hall of Justice, where court proceedings in the killing of Kyhara Tay have taken place. Bronx District Attorney Darcel D. Clark in her office.
Her office cited the case of a 17-year-old who was arrested three separate times on gun possession charges and sent to family court each time, before being arrested for murder, all within 12 months.
“I don’t want to lock them up and throw away the key because they’re young. But at the same time, they have to know the consequences for their actions,” said Ms. Clark.
Last March, New York Democratic Gov. Kathy Hochul sent lawmakers a list of priorities to help reduce crime, including changing the Raise the Age law to allow juveniles arrested on gun possession charges to be tried in criminal court. The proposal was never taken up by the Democratic-controlled legislature.
A coalition of children’s advocacy groups in New York have fought such proposals, saying that there’s no data showing a link between the law and rising juvenile shootings in New York.
“We believe that the increase was related to the massive disruptions and the trauma of the pandemic,” said Kate Rubin, director of policy and strategic initiatives at Youth Represent, a New York group that works with young people who have been incarcerated. “The year before the pandemic started, Raise the Age was already in effect and shootings were actually the lowest level that they had been in years.”
She and other advocacy groups said that early intervention programs for juvenile gun offenders remain a more effective means of heading off future violence than incarceration.
Yahisha Gomez, Kyhara Tay’s mother, shared memories of her daughter at the corner of Westchester Avenue and Fox Street on Dec. 17.
Several days after Kyhara Tay’s killing, police arrested the 15-year-old alleged shooter at a Bronx hotel, where he was found with his mother. Soon after, the 18-year-old driving the scooter turned himself in. Both had been victims of gun violence themselves, according to police. The 15-year-old was shot last January, while the 18-year-old, an alleged gang member, had been shot on two different occasions in 2020.
Both have pleaded not guilty.
Walter Fields, the lawyer for the 15-year-old, wouldn’t comment specifically on the case, but he blamed the growing youth violence on what he described as shockingly easy access to guns.
“I’ve never seen it this bad. I’ve never seen the amount of weapons that have flooded the streets of New York,” said Mr. Fields, who specializes in juvenile legal defense.
A lawyer for the 18-year-old declined to comment.
Before their daughter died, Yahisha Gomez and her husband, Sokpini Tay, had mulled moving out of their Bronx neighborhood with their five children for somewhere safer. But Ms. Gomez, a bank clerk, and Mr. Tay, a maintenance worker, were waiting to save enough money. They kept a close eye on their children, not letting them spend more than an hour outside after school.
Ms. Gomez got word that Kyhara had been shot that spring afternoon from her niece. She ran the 10 blocks from their apartment to the nail salon, the city blurring by her until she heard the sirens.
“I was praying to God that it wasn’t her. And if it was her, that she’d be OK. Just praying, ‘Please let me see her.’ That it wasn’t that bad. Just praying to God.”
Ms. Gomez and Mr. Tay said their lives have been broken. She sees a therapist to cope with the grief. He refuses to leave his 3-year-old daughter’s side and has been unable to go back to work.
The age of the boy who allegedly shot their daughter didn’t surprise them.
“It’s just kids killing kids,” Ms. Gomez said.
Kyhara Tay's gravesite in Yonkers. Sokpini Tay consoled Nayviah, Kyhara's sister, at the cemetery.
Write to Dan Frosch at firstname.lastname@example.org and Zusha Elinson at email@example.com