CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Chief Johnny Jennings told city council on Monday that violent crime in the city has risen 2% and hundreds of young people are suspects or victims of related crimes. firearms this year.
According to investigators, some suspects are as young as 13 years old.
A non-profit organization called Life Connections Inc. is trying to curb this trend, primarily helping 7- to 17-year-olds who have gotten into trouble in school, in the community, or with the law.
“Our goal is to absolutely find a way to prevent instead of having to be reactionary,” Life Connections COO Chablis Dandridge said.
The group aims to keep children out of prison and keep families connected.
Dandridge is saddened to learn that youth gun violence in the city is on the rise.
” It’s discouraging. It hurts because our young people are the future,” Dandridge said.
According to Jennings, 118 young people were suspected of gun crimes this year and 482 of them were victims.
“Gun violence among minors is my main concern,” Jennings said.
Dandridge’s concern is personal.
“I started delinquency when I was 14, and I didn’t get out of prison for the last time until I was 41,” Dandridge said. “I see myself in every child we serve and every teenager we see go through.”
According to Dandridge, when he was 18, he was shot in an armed robbery, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.
“It changed my life as a parent because at the time I was already the father of a 2-year-old child and [had] another child on the way. [I had] limitations on job prospects,” Dandridge said.
In his late twenties, he went to prison for drug trafficking. It was then that Dandridge said he decided to turn his life around.
“The desire to add more value to this world than what I took away was the key to changing and going in a different direction,” Dandridge said.
Now 45, he is sharing his story to help someone else.
“I’m a very different individual from when I started and my story is one that says there’s always hope,” Dandridge said.
Through Life Connections, he connects young people with positive role models and shows them they have more options.
“If we spend more time on prevention, we save a lot of money and, more importantly, save more lives,” Dandridge said.
Life Connections recruits volunteers to help accomplish its mission.
The City of Charlotte also has a Alternatives to Violence Programwhich last year created a partnership with Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to prevent youth violence.