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Nonprofit hopes to curb youth violence and crime issues in Charlotte



CHARLOTTE (QUEEN CITY NEWS) — From bicycle gangs to teenagers shooting at each other in a strip mall parking lot, experts warn more and more serious crimes are being committed by teenagers. They said social media is to blame as well as the criminal justice system as a whole.

While the Queen City has seen several of these types of crimes happen in the last few weeks, one local nonprofit is hoping to change the trend.

It’s eight phrases taped to a bathroom door. Simple and powerful affirmations.

“I get to pour into these kids. I have a lot of parents who say, girl I don’t know how you do it,” said Dawn Westbrook.

Westbrook is the Executive Director of PAL, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Activity League. She said the affirmations are there to remind kids of one thing.

“We don’t want the adults to just think you’re awesome, we want you to think you’re awesome,” said Westbrook.

Westbrook said they are a youth advocacy group that serves hundreds of kids each year. They take kids from all over and from different backgrounds. She said some of those kids don’t have the support system of the love they need at home.

“You can’t just say what the problems are,” said Westbrook. “Point me to someone who has a solution.”

The problem lately is something that’s playing out all over TV and online. There are videos of teenagers pulling out guns and shooting at each other or riding around in bicycle gangs and harassing and attacking people.

“Tomorrow is their future and that’s about as far as they can see,” said attorney Todd Rutherford. “That’s one of the things we’ve got to work on and tell them, there’s life outside of getting in trouble.”

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Rutherford said he has worked with teenagers who have been arrested for felonies. He said, he’s seeing younger and younger kids commit serious crimes because they don’t realize there are consequences.

“They see a number of rappers getting arrested, committing crimes, and they’re out on the street and they think that’s okay for them as well,” said Rutherford. “And it’s not. We’ve got to do more to spend time with our children, develop community programs to help our kids get off the streets and stop believing violence is the answer.”

He said, when he goes to court, it’s not the gangs that show up to support his clients, but their families.

“When I get them behind closed doors, in jail or on the way to jail, a lot of them are in tears,” said Rutherford. “They want their mother they didn’t know it would be this serious. They simply got angry and acted out on that anger.”

When Westbrook hears and sees videos of kids committing dangerous crimes, she can’t help but feel one type of way.

“Honestly, there are times when we feel disappointed in us because we’re thinking to ourselves, what could we have done, where does that kid live, how could we have gotten out to that neighborhood,” said Westbrook.

She said, there’s something to be said about seeing what could be.  And if that future is one of hope, it can change everything.

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