WTOC Investigates: Saving a Generation

(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)
(Source: WTOC)

SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - Who are the victims of Savannah's gun violence? There are troubling statistics when it comes to gun violence and people under 20 years old.

These young people are often on both sides of the gun. It leads to a life in prison or death in the streets.

WTOC looked into what's being done to save this generation. We found out it's a three-pronged attack by community members, churches, and the police.

Jordan Richardson remembers vividly the night his son was shot.

"Jordan Jr. was actually driving home one night. He was parking his car and they shot into the vehicle 10 times. Thank god he was only struck once. We rushed over to where the car was. The ambulance had taken him. We got to the hospital. They had taken him into that back for surgery already," said Jordan Richardson; his son was shot last June.

"It's like one moment you see your friend and then next thing you know, he's gone," said Cedric Thomas. He has friends who have died and friends who have been arrested.

"When I started seeing the majority of my friends arrested and some of them killed, I didn't want to be like them so I looked out and found some help," said a man who's identifying we're keeping private for his safety.

These are stories from people who saw the problems and got help.

Consider this, when it comes to shooting victims in Chatham County in 2016, nearly 30% were under 20. Even worse – 15% of homicide victims since 2011 are under 20. And on the other end of the gun, the shooter. Around 15% of the people arrested for violent crimes are under 20 years old.

"It's devastating. It's like living somewhere where there's no hope, where there's no future. It's like being in a bottle and can't get out," said Beverly Trotter.

When it comes to Savannah's gun violence – perhaps no one is doing more than Trotter.

"Our goal is to break cycles. Break negative cycles and increase positive cycles," said Trotter.

Her recently formed non-profit, Savannah Youth City, targets teens and young juveniles in areas affected most. They help them get jobs. They help them see opportunities in life. They help them see a way out.

"We believe that every young person is different. Their issues are different. Their solutions are different so ultimately their challenges are going to be different," said Trotter.

Her program is a virtual and literal lifeline for those who choose to take part.

"The goal right now is to get these guns out of these kids' hands. Give them something else. Give them an opportunity to live. Give them hope," said Trotter. Working together, with them and the community, anybody who would work, who cares enough, to come together and let's find a solution one child at a time. One community at a time."

"[It gives me] motivation, it actually gives me faith honestly. If it wasn't for Ms. Trotter, there's no telling where I'd be right now," said Cedric Thomas—a participant in Trotter's organization.

"Life changing experience. I'm surrounding myself by positive people," said another participant This program here is like an open. It's going to grab you and take care of you like a family."

Even with people like Ms. Trotter, a big responsibility falls on churches, the people inside, and the faith they share. That leads back to a familiar face – Jordan Richardson.

"I was actually home preparing a sermon for youth revival and while I'm preparing my sermon for youth revival, I get a call that my youth has been shot," said Richardson, pastor at a church in Port Wentworth.

In an instant, Richardson's life stopped. A light went off in his head. Enough of the pulpit; It's time to hit the streets.

"Something has to be done, and you just can't go to church and pray it away. We have to get out of the comforts of the church and get into the street where the young people who are being affected by the gun violence are," said Richardson.

There is one last prong to making a meaningful difference in the gun violence problem – maybe the most obvious – the police. Seeing these young victims is no easier on them.

"It's very hard. Not only on the officers on the scene but everyone in the department but it has equal effect on the community. No one wants to see someone young being a victim of a violent crime," said SCMPD Captain Lenny Gunther, the head of the department's End Gun Violence Initiative.

This puts what they do and how they do it at the forefront.

"If they don't trust in us, and we don't trust them, then they usually stray out into the streets," said the department's juvenile relations officer, Corporal Dion Hurley.

The department's new End Gun Violence Initiative targets potential victims and offenders of violent crime before it happens. They call go to their houses, call them into the police department, and even send personally addressed letters from the chief.

They also reach out to young people before that. Corporal Hurley runs summer camps, goes into schools, and interacts with teens every day as the department's juvenile officer.

"I know the struggles that some kids have being raised by a single parent. And just because you were raised by a single parent, doesn't mean you have to go and do anything you see everyone else doing," said Hurley.

Three sectors of society are all fighting for one purpose. They're convincing teens and young adults to put down the guns and start making something of their life.

"We don't want our children going to prison or perhaps dying on the streets of Savannah for owning or having a gun, in possession of an illegal gun," said Trotter.

For some, they saw the realities, and they got help.

"[My son] is working. Has a job. Has goals set for life after high school when he graduates this year," said Richardson. "We're extremely grateful for the turnaround in Jordan's life."

"Ten to fifteen years I see myself on a beach working someone's hospital," said Thomas.

There is progress—violent crime is down so far in 2017. That's a trend police hope to continue to see. Ms. Trotter tells me young people in this community are more open than you'd think about leaving this lifestyle. If you want to help her organization or volunteer, find out how, by visiting her website here.

Copyright 2017 WTOC. All rights reserved.