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Louisville Teens Express Safety Concerns, 'Push Back' in Conversations About Downtown Violence

Young residents who attended a pair of discussions  Thursday in West Louisville to address a recent string of violence downtown expressed concerns about safety in their neighborhoods, but also questioned the usefulness of the city-sponsored talks.

Young men were invited to a conversation at the Yearlings Club in west Louisville; young women were invited to join in at the Louisville Urban League on 15th Street and Broadway. About 100 people attended each discussion; media were invited but were later  told to leave the girls' meeting, or else it may be shut down. Reporters were allowed to remain in the meeting for boys.

The talks were a response to a string of violence Saturday, when anestimated 200 teenagers committed several violent acts through downtown Louisville. Police took 17 incident reports and answered 32 calls for help, and the violence led increased policing and calls for more conversations with young people.

On Thursday, organizers hoped to create spaces for teenagers to gather and speak freely about what they thought could be done to prevent future violence.

“They pushed back a little bit,” said Anthony Smith, director of the Safe Neighborhoods program, which sponsored the talks.  “But it was a pretty positive conversation.  They were really engaged, answered a lot of questions.”

That's not how 14-year-old Jayjuan Taylor saw it. He attended the boys' meeting. Speaking later Thursday at Waterfront Park, Jayjuan said the conversation didn’t work.

“They brought a bunch of kids from private schools and churches and Montessori schools and stuff like that,” he said.  “They need to be going to the 'hood, they need to be going to Victory Park, they need to come to Beecher Terrace.”

Jayjuan said he believes the adults in the meeting were “sugar coating” the issue.

“They need to be upfront, they need to keep it all the way real,” he said.

Others in the boys' meeting lamented violence in their communities and young people who are on streets at late hours, according to a news pool report. Most said they had friends or relatives who has been murdered, and that they'd been in fights at schools.

“We have violence because it is all we see," a teen said. "We don’t see anyone who is successful. We see people being broken, so we want to break people."

Smith said the young men expressed some concern for their own safety.

A teenage girl who declined to give her name said she feels “uncomfortable” when she goes downtown.

“I don’t feel like I can walk down the street,” she said.

Another girl said she frequently rides the TARC, but oftentimes feels threatened, saying "as girls, by ourselves, it is very dangerous."

The violence Saturday started following a vigil for two young people stabbed—one of whom died—earlier this month on a TARC bus. A grand jury declined to indict a man charged in thestabbings.

The meeting for young women was facilitated by Sadiqa Reynolds, the city's chief of community building and Yvette Gentry, deputy chief for Louisville Metro Police.

Reynolds and Gentry said media presence would limit the effectiveness of the conversation and had reporters removed from the meeting. Earlier Thursday, Louisville media had arranged with the city to pool reporters for the boys' and girls' meetings. I was one of the two reporters removed, along with a photographer from WDRB.

Smith said the media was invited to be a part of the conversations.

“We really wanted the media to be a part of it, but we didn’t want them in that space and in those rooms,” he said.  “We wanted the kids to have an open, honest conversation.”

Reynolds and Smith said these conversations paved the way for future discussions. Reynolds said they'll have future meetings because "we need it."

But Jayjuan said it isn’t conversations that teenagers need, it is “something to do.”

“We won’t have to go around beating people up or robbing stores or none of that,” he said.  “We just want to be a part of the community.”

Jacob Ryan is the managing editor of the Kentucky Center for Investigative reporting. He's an award-winning investigative reporter who joined LPM in 2014. Email Jacob at jryan@lpm.org.

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