MIAMI – Poor neighborhoods bare the brunt of gang-related shootings, and the stray bullets continue to kill innocent bystanders. It is a struggle that has hit generations in inner-city neighborhoods nationwide. In Miami, a sense of powerlessness plagues the community.
Just after Miami-Dade County buried seven-year-old Amiere Castro, the city was in mourning again. King Carter, 6, was shot on his way to buy candy. So far this year, King and 11 teenagers have died of gunshot wounds, according to the Miami-Dade County Medical Examiner's Office.
Noricia Talabert, 17, was supposed to graduate from South Dade Senior High School this June. Her mom, Regina Talabert, carries her last report card. She got an "A" in every class, and she was taking honors English and advanced placement calculus. She had plans to attend the University of Central Florida, but bullets from an AK-47 killed her.
"She had big dreams ... I haven't changed her linens. I haven't washed her clothes," Noricia's mom said. "I miss her ... I have to live with this pain ... they want to give him [ the killer] another chance. He is the head of a gang and he has no remorse. I still cry until 3 a.m. I can't sleep. She was my baby girl."
Talabert believes the hard hand of justice needs to fall on the killers and there needs to be better communication among prosecutors, police officers and the victim's next of kin. She also believes there needs to be more psychological help for the families and a laser focus on solutions.
"They [ gunmen] go out and join gangs, because they don't get any love from their parents," Talabert said. "At least that's the case with my daughter's killer, who went out shooting for revenge. He has so much hate in his heart. I tell parents, love your kids so they don't join those gangs."
The graceful mom is doing her best to remain active and focus on the solution with the help of activist Tangela Sears, who runs the Mothers of Murdered Children, a support group. They will be there for her when she has to face her daughter's accused killer, 15-year-old Christopher Walker, in court. He is facing a first-degree murder charge.
There is a desperate need for psychological and psychiatric services, said Sears, who is still mourning the loss of her son Randall to gun violence. The activist meets with Talabert and other mothers to talk about their pain and activism every Tuesday at the Northside Miami-Dade County Police Department.
Sears is tired of the false promises. She said she is disgusted by politicians and other community leaders who use grief-stricken mothers for photo opportunities.
On Tuesday, some mothers told her some officers disrespected them at crime scenes, some prosecutors ignored their pleas for information, some detectives seemed to have disregarded their tips and some judges were not being tough enough with violent offenders.
Sears said she needs help.
Rep. Cynthia A. Stafford, a Democrat, met with her, a group of mothers and attorney Hilton Napoleon, II, on Tuesday. Stafford is the daughter of a police officer and grew up in Liberty City. She was at the meeting to try to understand the challenges that Sears is facing. She wants to help her pass legislation.
Sears' bi-partisan efforts are relentless.
On Wednesday she met with Rep. Carlos Trujillo, a Republican, to discuss legislation to help the victims of gun violence. And on Friday, Sears will be in Fort Lauderdale for a 5:30 p.m. meeting with members of the National Black Police Association for a forum on "Bridging the Gap Between the Community and Police."
While Sears focuses on the dignified treatment of the victims' families and their pursuit of justice, there are others, such as the Miami Children's Museum, who are focusing on helping the children who live in the neighborhoods.
There are some who believe they can make a difference by helping one child at a time through mentorship and after-school programs. Local 10 News' Constance Jones has been volunteering in one -- The South Florida CARES Mentoring Movement.
WPLG-Local 10 News President Bert Medina wants to put the spotlight on the challenge that the community has been facing for generations. This is why Local 10 News will be hosting a town hall on Friday and Medina is welcoming the entire community to join him.
It's a complex problem that needs a multitude of approaches.
YOU ARE INVITED
One of the aspects of the gun violence problem that has been concerning community leaders is that the perpetrators of the violence are making wrong choices at an early age.
"Young people have lost hope," Medina said. "Young people need to know guns are not the solution to their problems. These young people need to see more role models, members of the community who are thriving and living full and productive lives."
The town hall will be the beginning of many #MyFutureMyChoice conversations to come as Local 10 News focuses on the solution during the "My Future, My Choice" campaign. Local10.com will be presenting relevant news coverage, public service announcements and opportunities for editorials.
Local10.com wants your input. We are determined to focus on hopeful solutions.
Sears said she is skeptical about the Local 10 News campaign and politicians' "sudden interest" on the topic during campaign season. The dedicated activist is among the community leaders Local10.com's digital reporter Andrea Torres hopes to serve on the site's Community section.
Local 10 News' #MyFutureMyChoice campaign kicks off on Friday, April 15 at 8 p.m with a one-hour conversation at the historic Lyric Theater in Miami's Overtown. Local 10 News anchors Calvin Hughes and Laurie Jennings will moderate a discussion among a group of panelists. It will be the first of many events.
The panelists include T. Willard Fair, of the Urban League of Greater Miami, the Superintendent of Miami-Dade County Public Schools Alberto Carvalho and the Broward County Public Schools Superintendent Robert Runcie.
"We are not naïve to think this will solve this crisis, but we pledge to do our part." Medina said. "And hopefully a small seed we plant can grow."