D.C. teenager Jasmine, of Anacostia, has known the toll of gun violence for as long as she can remember.
On her first day of school in third grade, she recalled, a man was shot in front of her and her family as they exited a bus.
“All I knew was to just run; didn’t stand there in fear. I knew what to do,” she said. “It’s a shame that I know what to do when I hear those bullets and I see that gun come out.”
Years later, she said, little has changed in her community, where she said the sounds of guns are a regular occurrence – so much so the teen said she only feels safe in one place in her home: her family’s bathroom.
There, she explained, “I know a bullet can’t come through the wall.”
A group D.C.’s youth talks about what gun violence means for them. Investigative Reporter Tracee Wilkins sat down with six teenagers who live in neighborhoods that have seen some of the most gun violence.
Jasmine and her sister, Jessica, are among a half dozen D.C. teenagers — including siblings Nya and Arin, Giovanni and Jordan — who sat down with the News4 I-Team to discuss the impact of gun violence on their daily lives. They’re all part of the Deanwood Radio Broadcast Youth Journalism Program, a safe space where kids learn about mass media and dream of their future.
The teens live in different neighborhoods and go to different schools in the District, but many of them tell a similar story about what and whom they’ve lost to gun violence.
“I will say that gun violence has definitely deprived me of my youth,” Jessica said.
“It makes you anxious all the time because, you know, you never know what can happen,” Jordan added.
Several of the teens said they have had a classmate or friend killed by guns in recent years. A young man killed outside a convenience store. Another outside his home.
“When it hits so close to home, it just leaves like a sense of fear over everyone,” Nya said. “You shouldn’t have to feel that way as a teenager in D.C.”
Many of these students live in wards 7 and 8, where data show violent crimes with guns have risen the most in the past year.
The teens are all focused on their studies and planning where they want to go to college, but they’re doing so despite a near constant fear for their safety.
“Everything from the outside comes in … There’s people with bullets going through their windows and that’s literally our last resort for safety,” Jessica said of the threat of violence piercing her Anacostia home’s walls.
Asked if they feel safe at home, only a handful of the teens raised their hands. None raised their hands when asked if they feel safe in their schools or communities.
“School should feel like a safe place, but in school you still have to stay paranoid because when we get out of school at 3:30, you don’t know if a gunshot is gonna go off because people are beefing,” Giovanni said.
Earlier this year, the teens sat down with some city leaders to tell their stories and share ideas for what they say could help, like more programs for kids through recreation centers and opportunities for employment.
“We just need more programs for young Black males,” Arin said. “…A lot of young Black males don’t have that luxury of going to a Boy & Girls Club and having that one counselor, one teacher that they’re close with. I felt like that’s something that the young Black males need right now.”
While the teens said they believe the District could offer more paid opportunities for teens, they were divided on whether they felt failed by city leaders.
“In D.C., you make it how you want to make your life,” Giovanni said. “If you hang around the people who are going to push you to do the things that you want to do, then you could be successful.”
But Jessica said too many young people are lost to gun violence simply while living their lives – as bystanders to the surrounding violence in communities like hers.
“They’re losing their lives doing what they’re supposed to do, coming home from work; their extracurriculars,” she said, adding, “The things that are out of our control and in [city leaders’] hands have not been managed well.”
This story was reported by Tracee Wilkins, produced by Katie Leslie, shot by Jeff Piper and Steve Jones, and edited by Steve Jones.