The short run up to Nashville's special mayoral election hasn't allowed for lengthy policy debates but many candidates have been vocal about the issue of youth violence. Over the last few years the city has seen an uptick in gun deaths and crimes committed by juveniles. 2017 was the deadliest year for youth in Nashville in more than a decade.
In February, prompted by a series of auto thefts and robberies allegedly committed by youth, Metro Police launched a Juvenile Crime Task Force, which has resulted in a surge of arrests. But look closely, and the numbers show that the majority of those picked up by the task force are, in fact, adults.
According to Metro Police, 122 adults and 81 juveniles have been arrested by the task force since it began. Another 68 firearms have been seized, but police say the vast majority of those belonged to adults — only a third of the guns came from juveniles.
When it comes to candidates for mayor, each has ideas about youth violence and violence in general — its root causes and its solutions — though some are more fleshed out than others. Here are their answers:
What would you do to decrease youth violence and homicides?
Carlin Alford: "We have to give them something they want to be involved with, and then we have to address the issues at home… Most of the crime that we're experiencing comes from that poverty level. So if we can help close the gap with the disparity between incomes, there's a direct correlation in reduction of crime. So it's a multilayered, multipronged issue that we can address. And it starts with services in the home."
David Briley: "One of the most significant things I think we're doing this year is trying to work with some grassroots groups that then go out there and do things on a hands-on basis, to work with youth to prevent them from from getting on a path that results in violence."
Ralph Bristol: "Most youth violence and homicide is related to gang activity, and gang activity is related to a form of organized crime. What am I going to do to solve organized crime, that recruits young people to kill each other for no good purpose? I’m afraid I don’t have the answer to that. But people and I mean all stakeholders …we get them into the same room and have as many brainstorming sessions and discussions as possible to understand each other and to find a solution to this problem so the gangs become the odd man out."
Jeff Obafemi Carr: "What I'm committed to doing is creating a position that is dedicated to dealing with youth violence…It would be the Director of Youth Life and Prosperity…We will create a best practices manual that can be distributed to nonprofits to churches to organizations of interfaith cultures. The simplicity of youth violence is the simplicity in human culture. Young people act out when they feel like they're not being seen, adults act out when they feel like they're not being seen."
Erica Gilmore: "We have some wonderful, grassroot nonprofits that are doing a lot of work. I would like to work more with them and some of our barbershops and beauty shops and with that, creating safe spaces for young people. … and giving them places to cool down, calm down…I actually created a directory — it's almost completed — that took 100 nonprofits that specialize in youth violence, and just creating a directory, a resource, and letting people know that we have those resources available."
Albert Hacker: "We have in my opinion one of the greatest nonprofit offerings as a municipality — as the capital of the Volunteer State — than any other city in the country...I would like to bring back programs that have worked and increase funding for those."
David Hiland: “I think the ideas is to create some types of jobs to get people to work… There’s a way to solve this. It’s going to be one person at a time, one child at a time, one conversation at a time, until we just instill the positivity into the young people, and adults as well."
Julia Clark-Johnson: "You work on their self-esteem first, and crime and criminal activity will be reduced if they feel good about their job."
Harold Love: "I sat down with the Meharry-Vanderbilt Alliance and other leaders of congregations and we developed plans to reduce youth violence specifically by engaging congregations — faith congregations — to reduce youth violence, to engage the persons in our church first — or our faith institutions first — about how they can have better conflict resolution scenarios to give them the tools that they can use to reduce conflict and resolve them better so it doesn't go to violence."
Jeff Napier: "Bring back the amusement park to the fairgrounds. And what that will do is give kids something to do here in town."
Jon Sewell: "Let's decriminalize drugs and let's decriminalize prostitution because these aren't really criminal justice issues. They are more social and medical issues."
Carol Swain: "I see community leaders, business owners, teachers, pastors, schools, all of us working together to address the problem. And I think that there is a disregard for the sanctity of human life. And you see that in the fact that a lot of the violent crimes are black on black… If black lives really matter to the community, then why are so many black people killing each other? I think that we have to sensitize people and also encourage them to take ownership of that problem."