September 23, 2014 by WUWM Radio — Milwaukee recently experienced a rash of armed robberies and car jackings. Five suspects have been charged so far – all are teenagers or younger. Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn says he’s seeing more kids getting involved in serious crimes. We wanted to explore why some kids living in a neighborhood turn to crime, while others don’t. We went in search of answers at Running Rebels, a group on the north side that keeps young people busy.
Victor Barnett started Running Rebels back in 1980. He was 19 years old. “I took in 50 young people in 1980 when gangs were just getting started, and I said what can I do to keep them away from gangs? And 34 years later we do the same thing. We find out what is the passion of our young people. Get them loving that, get them wanting to be around you so that they can participate in that,” Barnett says.
Barnett says he has noticed more kids lately, committing serious crimes. But he says the spiral began younger than you might imagine.
“Now, because so much of the poverty and the hopelessness in our community, we got seven, eight, nine-year-old young men that are growing up with that negativity and that’s all they know. So if you’re seven, eight-years-old, by the time you 10-years-old you’re a three year vet as far as the negativity that’s been around you. So that little shoplifting has grown, and now we got young people that’s committing robberies that’s 11 and 12-years-old,” Barnett says.
Barnett says the community must give kids healthy options before they turn to the streets. At Running Rebels kids can join sports teams, connect with mentors and learn skills like music production.
A few young men here today say they’ve been coming for years. Twenty year old Kejuan Carter, 17-year-old Brian Smith and 10-year-old Donovan Sparks. They say how kids grow up has a lot to do with their actions.
But the young men say they’d rather talk about what they’re doing to make Milwaukee better. Two more join in – 13-year-old Faizon Pugh and Victor Barnett’s 11-year-old son who shares his name. The boys say besides staying out of trouble, they encourage others to do better.
The older Barnett says his organization will continue to guide young people in a positive direction.
“It’s like they’re in a tunnel and they don’t know where they’re going, it’s darkness all around them. The light is way so far away from them that they can’t even see it. And if you image being in a tunnel and you’re just moving your hands around you could be putting your hand toward a knife, but if you don’t know it or realize it you don’t know that you’re headed toward danger. We as adults need to bring that light at the end of the tunnel closer to them so that they can see where they’re going,” Barnett says.
Barnett says while he sees a lot of hopelessness in children, society can’t afford to give up on them.