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Solving youth violence | An ongoing conversation in Pine Bluff

Recently, Pine Bluff has seen a rise in violence among teens— Since March there have been four people under 18 years shot and killed in the city.

PINE BLUFF, Ark. — The City of Pine Bluff saw its tenth homicide of 2023 to end last week after a 17-year-old died from gunshot wounds. It's the fourth youth homicide in the city this year— something community advocates have been frustrated to see.

Kymara Seals is one of those feeling that frustration. 

She's been in Pine Bluff since she first came to town for college, and hasn't left. That's why she has been fighting for a positive change.

"We're in crisis," Seals said. "There are times it feels hopeless, but we don't want to stop there. Like I said, we want to do our part, we know Pine Bluff is better than that, and we need to get to the root of the problem."

Pine Bluff Mayor Shirley Washington told us in a statement that fixing the issue of youth violence isn't one that's one-sided. 

She said, "We need parents, churches, schools, and other community organizations to partner collaboratively with us to develop positive engagement activities for the youth of our community. It is up to us to do all we can to save our youth.”

That idea is also echoed by Jefferson County Sheriff Lafayette Woods.

"It's even more disheartening when we look at those crimes being committed, the victims in these crimes are juvenile," he said. "Something I thought I'd never see."

He agreed with the mayor but said some of the solutions start at home as well.

"One of the things I just think we see that is different now from then, I didn't see then, is a lack of cooperation from parents, but also the lack of parental guidance," Woods explained.

Woods also shared some data from the Juvenile Detention Center as a sign of more kids in trouble. He said that before the pandemic they averaged about 25 in the center.

Now, they've been sitting just above 60. Their maximum capacity is 86.

Seals said that she knows there is no easy fix to this solution— whether it's parents, law enforcement, the community, or anybody else. 

She also said fixing the problem takes everybody, and it's something they need to do soon.

"We want better for our students, our students want better for our students, our students want better for Pine Bluff," she said. "So we know we have to do what we have to do to make sure our children are safe."

Mayor Washington also shared that a team from Pine Bluff will travel to Philadelphia next week to see how they've reduced crime there, to hopefully bring back some ideas to share.

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