The streets of Wichita have been dangerous in the past few weeks. There have been daily shootings, most of them happening in Wichita’s northeast urban core. A number of the shootings have gone unreported, and the ones that are reported have ended fatally.

In particular, there has been a rise in the number of murders involving young, Black, male, high-school-age teens. Since earlier this month, police have been investigating a string of murders that were thought to be connected.

The investigation includes four shootings and three murders within four days. A 19-year-old died, and two 18-year-olds were injured.

In the wake, a community-driven group, the Wichita Street Team has organized to respond to the violence and stop the rising gang wars. Responding quickly to what could become a major crisis, the group held their first public meeting, a live video-conference on Facebook, to bring the general public into the conversation on how to bring peace to the streets. Sunflower Community Action hosted the virtual meeting of the community.

Bryce Graham, owner of Shock Shop Barber Shop and a member of the group, says the Northeast area of Wichita has seen from three to five shootings a day. It’s a spree of violence that Wichita hasn’t seen since the 1990s.

“Even while we were at our meeting on Monday, to discuss the issues, there was a drive-by shooting on 11th and Grove,” Graham said.

While older-generation gang members have influenced youth, Graham says this new generation of gangs is much worse and that too much “idle time” brought on by COVID’s closure of the schools and the ensuing lack of daily structure and supervision, has helped escalate the violence.

The Pipeline for Change

Wichita Street Team hopes to encourage individuals and other groups to take action in the fight to stop the gang wars. Members of the group are asking individuals and groups to join the “pipeline” to end the cycle.

Their pipeline to end the cycle includes three parts: Part 1 involves a street team going to the areas where violence is centered. While out on the streets, the team will patrol and reach out to known gang members to help put them on a new path.

Part 2 is where business owners and community groups can step in. They can help distract teens from gangs by providing alternative opportunities like jobs and other after-school programs where they can earn money or life skills.

Graham points out, “The vast majority of these kids who are involved in gang activity and gun violence, don't have the bare essentials at home. A big contributor to that, of course, is the systemic challenges we face as Black people in America – where we’ve been set up to fail. It’s created a society where most children are growing up with major struggles, dealing with single-parent households.”

Part 3 of the pipeline calls for sustained mentorship; it is the neighborhood version of Big Brothers Big Sisters. WST believes that troubled youth need the community’s attention.

While many community organization focus their efforts on students that are succeeding, real change happens in the trenches, noted Graham. Overlooked kids need support too.

“The goal at this point is to get troubled and gang-affiliated boys and girls pointed in the direction of opportunities,” Graham said. “We can’t wait for the government to intervene. Everyone in some way can take personal responsibility to change our community.”

In order to affect change, WST needs Black businesses, people, and organizations to be all-hands-on-deck. If you can’t join the street team, consider donating water and other resources to the cause. They also need people to speak up about what they know or personally intervene to help a teen who is in trouble or on the verge of taking a wrong turn. Spend time with them. Show them some love.

“People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

WST has a standing meeting every Mon., 6 p.m. at CHD Boxing Club, 2505 E. 9th St. N., Wichita. The public is welcome to attend and join in an open discussion about solutions that have already begun and to share their ideas for positive change.

If you see or know something that can impact this fight against gang-violence please contact WST through the group's Facebook page, contact Tracy Mason at CHD Boxing, or e-mail Graham at bryceagraham@gmail.com.

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