Community

A year ago yesterday, Louisville unwittingly stumbled into weeks of soul-searching on the issues of violence prevention and youth outreach.

The catalyst was a string of violence on the evening of March 22, 2014 in downtown Louisville. On that Saturday night, police say a large group of young people–about 200–caused several acts of vandalism and violence, starting at Waterfront Park.

A gas station was ransacked, according to police. Cars sitting at traffic lights, were pummeled; robberies were reported. Police said they received 20 calls for assistance in downtown on a single night.

The incidents led to security changes in downtown Louisville; but city officials and community members question whether the underlying issues that led to the mob violence have been addressed.

In the days after the incidents, city leaders scrambled to respond to questions about downtown safety. Community forums and “peace walks” were organized; Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer ordered $230,000 worth of cameras be installed in and around Waterfront Park.

Meanwhile, police racked up more than $1 million in overtime pay in the six weeks that followed the night, according to The Courier-Journal. More recently, a state of the art crime information center began monitoring cameras around the city to assist police.

In an interview this month, Louisville Metro Police Chief Steve Conrad said the additions were a direct result of the events that transpired on March 22, 2014.

“If not for what we saw happened, we would not have had the opportunity,” he said.

That opportunity, Conrad said, has led to a safer downtown area.

Security measures may be upgraded, but young Louisvillians and the people who work with them say more needs to be done to keep them engaged.

Jayjuan Taylor, 15, said he was present during last year’s string of violence. And he still goes to the Big Four Bridge and Waterfront Park with his friends. They like to joke around and flirt with the girls, he said.

IMG_7100Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

From left to right: Malik Morris, 13, Jayjuan Taylor, 15, and Desean Cathy, 14.

But Taylor said despite the millions being invested to keep an aura of safety, not much has changed.

He lives in the Beecher Terrace housing development. He said today, just like last year, kids lack appealing activities.

“There still isn’t anything to do,” he said, standing recently below a loading ramp at the Baxter Community Center so rain wouldn’t soak his sweatshirt.

He said cameras and a boosted police presence won’t stop violence.

“A camera is nothing,” he said. “You can try to slow it down, but that isn’t going to work either.”

Anthony Smith, director of the city’s office of safe and healthy neighborhoods, said March 22, 2014 showed the community that serious gaps exist regarding engaging the area’s youngest residents.

“We’ve got to do better programming for young people, we got to do more consistent programming for young people, we got to have programming available when they want programming, and we’ve got to understand that young people are going to come to the park where adults can do different activities with them,” he said.

Smith said initiatives such as Zones of Hope, My Brother’s Keeper and Louisville’s participation in the National Forum on Youth Violence Prevention are attempting to provide support for and engage young people, specifically young African American men.

After last year’s night of violence, city officials allotted additional money for community centers to expand hours. But that can only go so far; the Baxter Community Center, in Jayjuan’s neighborhood, closes at 7 p.m. Friday nights and isn’t listed as open on Saturday.

Taylor said more gyms that stay open later might help the issue of reaching young people–it might get kids his age to get off the street and focus on something positive. But what’s missing, he said, is not a lack of places to play basketball. What’s missing is role models.

“That’s all it really is; there isn’t nothing out here,” he said. “Young people see other [adults] selling dope and doing all that and they think that’s what they’ve got to do and it’s not.

“But that’s the way of life and that’s how it’s going to be until the cycle is broke.”

That is a message that Smith, as well as Metro Council members David James and David Tandy, also espouse.

All three say young people in Louisville need someone to look up to and guide them.

“We as adults and we as a community, should act more like a village,” said James, who represents the Old Louisville area and is a University of Louisville Police officer. “That we all look out for each other.”

James said the community doesn’t do enough to engage with young people.

“We have to talk to them where they are, which is on the street,” he said. “Many people don’t realize the pressures that are on young people in certain areas of town to do the wrong thing.”

Tandy, the Metro Council president whose district includes downtown Louisville, said government alone can’t solve the issues facing Louisville’s young people.

“This is a community-wide issue that all of us need to wrap our arms around and have to address and tackle,” he said.

IMG_7096Jacob Ryan | wfpl.org

Metro Council president David Tandy in his office at City Hall.

 

As for a repeat of last year, Taylor isn’t certain that it won’t happen again. He said not all of Louisville’s young people aren’t actively looking to cause trouble–but they are looking for things to do.

Taylor said until something changes or a better place to spend a warm spring evening opens up, he, along with his friends, will keep heading to Waterfront Park.

“Who’s going to stop us?” he said. “What else do we have to do? Not a thing.”

Jacob Ryan is a reporter for the Kentucky Center for Investigative Reporting.