Youth Violence in Middle Tennessee

In 2015, there were 75 criminal homicide cases in Nashville. Twenty of the victims were under the age of 19. According to an article published in The Tennessean, that’s double the number in Oakland, CA and ten times the number in El Paso, TX. It’s also the highest number of youth violence cases that Nashville has seen in the last decade. Additionally, there were 215 violent juvenile offenses, 159 of which involved a gun. Youth violence is a serious problem in Middle Tennessee, but thankfully, there are several initiatives in play that are working to solve this issue.


Youth Homicides by City.JPG


According to the Metro Nashville Police Department, the majority of these youth homicides stemmed from altercations between groups of young people that used to be settled by throwing punches, but now involve weapons. For example, on May 26, 2015, 15-year-old Row'Neshia Overton was fatally shot in North Nashville during a dispute between two groups of girls. Later that year, 14-year-old Treyonta Burleson was shot outside of her public housing development by 18-year-old Antwana Smith.


Burleson’s brother asked The Tennessean, “What’s the deal with all these shootings? Kids killing kids," Burleson said, raising his voice, his eyes fixated on his sister's temporary green grave marker. "Pick up some boxing gloves and go on and get it over with. The (gun) violence — look what it did. Look what it did."


Violent Youth Offenses.JPG


This increase in youth violence and homicides prompted Mayor Megan Barry and her Office of Neighborhoods and Community Engagement to take action. They organized a series of summits that brought together local teenagers, Metro council members, and community members to talk about violence in Nashville and what can be done to end it. These brainstorming sessions encouraged young community members to think about what has led to homicide among their peers, as well as how they can join together to put a stop to it. The first summit had nearly 400 students in attendance.


Hillside High School senior Daquan Summers spoke up during one of the summits to say, "We lost a lot of people last year. I never knew that being in a gang you could end up dead until last year. I never know that shooting dice or talking about somebody's mom could get you killed until last year. Why do we deal with our situations by resorting to violence?"


Gangs remain a serious social issue as they increase crime and thrive in impoverished areas. Gangs recruit their members heavily from prisons and schools, targeting either those who have already broken the law or the young and impressionable. Youth, in particular, join gangs for a variety of reasons, but most commonly potential gang members desire respect and wealth. Some of the most common reasons for joining are:


  • Unstable or undesirable home environment

  • Desire to be important or significant, to gain respect

  • Peer pressure or threats of violence

  • Desire to get rich or escape poverty

  • Need to fit in or feel like a part of a group

  • To rebel against society

  • To emulate a role model such as an older sibling


After joining a gang, the new member's lifestyle and attitude often changes drastically. Changes in personality and social life can be key indicators that someone has joined again. Common signs of recent gang initiation are:


  • Sudden change in friend group or social life

  • Uses new name or nickname

  • Frequent use of hand gestures to friends

  • New tattoos, piercings, or haircut that might symbolize gang involvement

  • Less involvement with school or family


Mayor Barry will use the ideas that come out of the five summits to create a concrete plan on decreasing youth violence in Nashville. Six areas of improvement were named as a result of the summits: Training & Employment, Meaningful Youth Engagement, Health Awareness & Access, Restorative Justice & Diversion, Safe Environment, and Education. The official report on the results of the summit can be viewed here.


There are also several nonprofits working hard to put an end to youth violence in our community. Organizations like Boys & Girls Clubs and Oasis Center give children and teens a safe and productive place to go after school, while organizations like Big Brothers Big Sisters and 100 Black Men of Middle Tennessee provide young people with mentors. There are also organizations like Southern Word that provide a creative outlet for youth in underserved communities.


How You Can Help:

  • Volunteer with local organizations working to stop gang violence.

  • Support The Community Foundation's Sports Fund, which involves youth in team sports in the critical after-school hours.

  • Become familiar with the warning signs of gang involvement and factors that increase the likelihood of joining.

  • Report signs of youth violence or gang activity to the police.

  • Talk to your kids about youth violence and show them how they can have a positive impact on our community.


Updated 8/11/16 by Kathryn Bennett