Youth Gun Violence Berks: A Search for Answers

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Reading City Council, Mayor and community leaders are seeking solutions after a shooting this week left one dead and three others injured on a Reading playground in a pre-arranged brawl involving youths from multiple boroughs.

“I don’t know what we can do, but we have to,” Councilor Donna Reed said after learning at Monday night’s council meeting of the shooting at Brookline Park in Reading’s 18th Borough.

The shootings took place around 7:45 p.m. Monday at the park, a city playground in the 1300 block of Meade Street, about half a block from Kenhorst Boulevard.

Police say one shooting victim, Amiere T. Bibbs, 18, a student at Gov. Mifflin, died at the scene.

Two other victims, a man and a woman, were taken by ambulance to Reading Hospital. A fourth gunshot victim, who was not further identified, arrived at the hospital in a private vehicle.

Several participants fired shots, police said, and all fled before police arrived. No arrests have been made, but police said they have numerous witnesses to interview.

The latest news sparked a discussion at the end of the council meeting, and those feelings continued the next day when Mayor Eddie Moran held a press conference with Chief of Police Richard Tornielli at the scene of the shooting.

“I think we need to issue a call to action to the whole community,” council vice-chair Johanny Cepeda-Freytiz said at the council meeting. “It has to be a collective effort. Our home is being violated with violence and that is unacceptable.

“It’s a call to action for every person. If you can talk, you can say something.

Moran used similar words when he told reporters on Tuesday that he was issuing a challenge to numerous entities, including parents, the Reading School District, the Olivet Boys & Girls Club, the Daniel Torres Hispanic Center and the faith-based organizations to suggest ways to get guns out of the hands of young people.

Moran also said he plans to divert more than $1 million of the city’s federal allocation for COVID recovery to youth and after-school programs.

Councilwoman Marcia Goodman-Hinnershitz said any solution must be holistic, involving not just police enforcement but also community prevention through conversation.

“There’s a trauma that comes with that,” Goodman-Hinnershitz said. “The police need to do what they are doing, but we as representatives need to empathize with this trauma and speak up when it happens.”

Chris Winters, President and CEO of Olivet, said Wednesday that programs are already in place in the community through Olivet and other organizations to reduce youth violence. If an agency cannot meet the needs, it can turn to one of several other organizations for the necessary resources.

What needs improvement, Winters pointed out, is support from the greater Berks County community.

For example, he says, Olivet has a mentorship program to help children choose the right path, but often its staff have to fill the gap because there aren’t enough community volunteers willing to commit an hour and a half a week to meet a teenager.

Building relationships with teens is the most important investment, collectively, that the community can make, Winters said. There is a particular need for more mentors who grew up in the city and have gone through difficult times, including experience with the justice system as criminals.

“If you sit down and listen to them (teenagers) and you listen to their concerns, their worries, you really learn a lot about their state of mind, what they’re thinking and what they’re saying,” he said. “So I think the most important thing for the community to realize is that your time is more valuable to this 13-18 year old than even money.”

Winters said that when offered a safe space and an empathetic ear to share their concerns and worries, teenagers in Reading today overwhelmingly express a high level of fear. They are afraid that they, their friends or their family members will be victims of gun violence.

But Winters said teen violence is not limited to the city.

“That fight was a designed fight, from what I was told,” he said. “It was organized on social media. So think about this: it was an organized fight between children from different districts and different municipalities and they showed up in a park that is rarely used by people to fight. .

“Not one of these kids…thought to pick up a phone and talk to someone. So who is at fault here? It’s not Olivet. We are doing everything we can right now. My point is that it’s not the (school) districts. They do everything they can…

“This is a community issue and the only way to solve this community issue is for everyone in the community to work together.”

(Reporter Keith Dmochowski contributed to this story).

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