Mike Matejka: Gun violence study a wise idea

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Mike Matejka

Our Bloomington-Normal peaceful prosperity bubble is shattered on a too frequent basis, as gunfire blasts the night and another young person dies.

Understanding why is reason enough to support Bloomington council member Mollie Ward’s proposal for a special commission on gun violence. There is only one problem with Ward’s proposal – it needs to cross Division Street and include Normal and McLean County.

Guns are not just used for robberies, drug dealing or other criminal activity, they are fired off randomly in personal feuds and self-assertions where the victim might be random. Too frequently its young men who are the victims and perpetrators.

On October 30, 2018, Trevonte Kirkwood was walking his neighborhood, when he was shot by Jordyn Thornton. Prosecutors charged that 22-year-old Thornton, who was convicted on February 22, 2022, was trying to prove his violence credibility.

Normal’s 20-year-old Dylan Meserole, a high school athlete, lost his life on February 12 in Bloomington.

Tragedy struck again on March 10 when six-year-old Matthias Clemons and his mother, Brittney Harmon, were killed in a domestic abuse; the attacker, Lawrence D. Clemons III, then shot himself. The family and friends’ hearts torn by senseless violence will never fully heal.

Law enforcement is always trying to connect the puzzle pieces, vigilant for illegal possession, too often called out late at night when gunfire is reported and shells are scattered on a neighborhood street. Police know well how shadow purchases, gun theft and handguns end up in youthful hands.

Tough enforcement is one issue, but Ward’s proposal asks us to dig deeper. Law enforcement will do all they can. There is more that we as a community can do. What is lacking, particularly in a young man’s life, that a gun makes that person feel empowered? What alternatives are lacking that young people turn to firearms?

I may be on Medicare, but I do remember what the teen world is like. A young man’s body is growing, the hormones are raging and there is a yearning for respect. A strong family, school achievement, a job, sports, arts, drama, music can channel that energy positively. Awards and commendations create self-esteem and give life purpose.

In the 1980s our community enjoyed a federal program, the Summer Youth Employment Program. Local youth mowed lawns, washed windows, and created art for area schools and non-profits while earning minimum wage. Hundreds participated. Teachers were counselors and those with academic needs spent half the day in the classroom, half on the job. Instead of wandering the streets, young people earned a wage, learned some basic workplace skills like punctuality and had cash in their pocket. Like many programs, this opportunity disappeared with federal budget cuts.

Stopping gun violence and particularly identifying youthful patterns is worth community involvement. No neighborhood can claim 100 percent safety. Law enforcement is dispatched after the incident. We need to reach our youth before the 911 call. Ward’s proposal for an intensive, short-term effort might spur us to dig deeper, understand the challenges and dynamics, and hopefully mean fewer funerals and tragic headlines.

Mike Matejka lives in Normal and is co-chair of the Not In Our Town effort.

Mike Matejka lives in Normal.

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Columns,Region: Bloomington,City: Bloomington,Opinion,Region: Central

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April 9, 2022 at 02:53PM

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