Mobile Police Chief James Barber has a message for parents: pay attention to your children.
Barber said the city is plagued with a recent proliferation of teenage gun crimes.
“It’s a huge concern for us. The easy access to guns in our culture is one of the problems. The other is that we’ve created an environment where apparently they’re not scared to carry guns. They’re not scared to show these guns,” Barber said.”We’re appealing to the public to pay attention to your kids. Pay attention to who they’re hanging out with. Look in their rooms, and look in their backpacks. They don’t have a right to privacy in your home.”
Barber referred to three recent high-profile examples; the Christmas night movie theater shooting that injured 4 teenagers and two cases in January where teens were accidentally shot and killed by other teenagers.
Mobile County Juvenile Judge Ed Naman said this is the first time in a while he’s had two teenagers in his courtroom charged with manslaughter.
“Our numbers, overall have greatly declined in the numbers of children brought in on violent crimes using weapons or children possessing weapons, but nonetheless it doesn’t take many children carrying guns to do great harm. I will say, it’s been a while since we’ve seen two young children killed at the hand of another teenager using a gun. And we’ve seen two now in one month,” Naman.
According to court records, the overall number of weapons offenses for minors charged at the Strickland Youth Center has decreased dramatically from 161 in 2009 to 61 in 2015.
However, if you take a closer look at each individual category, you’ll find that the number of attempted murder charges in 2015 was equal to the 5 prior years combined.
This stemmed from the summer’s ‘red light shooting,’ when a group of teenagers approached a woman at a stoplight on Monterey Street and shot her in the eye.
2016 marks the first time in at least 7 years, there have been any minors charged with manslaughter at Strickland.
Naman said the common thread between nearly all of the teens in his courtroom is the lack of supervision by their parents.
“That’s what worries me. I know that’s what probably worries the chief. It should worry our whole community. We have a lot of kids who are out there without any significant presence in their life, and so the negatives are going to engulf them and rush in, and that’s why we have the problems we have,” Naman said. “If they don’t have someone who loves them and they’re placed in high crime areas with drugs and no supervision, then that is just a recipe for disaster, and we’re starting to see it.”
Naman and Barber both said they scroll through hundreds of Facebook photos every day where minors are posing with guns and other weapons. They urge parents to look through their child’s social media, rooms, phones, and anything else that could help them prevent another tragedy from happening.
According to Mobile County Juvenile Court Records, there were zero minors charged with murder in 2015 at Strickland Youth Center compared to one the year before and six in 2009.
Naman said sometimes when teenagers who are at least 16 years old are charged with serious crimes, they bypass Strickland and are taken directly to Metro jail, so they are not included in the data.