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Peacing Together: When and why are teens committing crimes?

We often see headlines about teens committing crimes, but why and when are they doing it?

MACON, Ga. — Through a partnership with Mercer's Center for Collaborative Journalism, Georgia Public Broadcasting and the Telegraph, we will seek out many voices over the next year and ask the question: What is the cost of youth violence? The project is named Peacing Together.

BACKGROUND: Peacing Together: Seeking solutions to youth violence in Central Georgia

On Villa Avenue, things are fairly quiet outside Will Ferrier’s home.

“I grew up where you never locked your door. You could leave your keys in your car,” he said.

But that place wasn’t in Macon.

“You didn’t ignore the person next door. You said, ‘Hi, how are you doing this morning,’” he said.

Before moving to west Macon, Ferrier lived in the Bloomfield area for more than a decade. It’s now a neighborhood that reported dozens of aggravated assaults, homicides and robberies when we mapped out violent crime across Macon-Bibb in 2018.

“It used to be really bad. Shoes up on the wires, kids running down the street in the middle of the night, and I had two boys shot in front of my house,” said Ferrier.

He’s seen children of all ages do all sorts of bad things around town, and ‘back in the day,’ Quentin Johnson may have been one of those kids.

Credit: Grant Blankenship

“Trouble is easy to get into,” said Johnson.

He grew up on Poppy Avenue in the Unionville area.

“It’s tough. It’s a tough neighborhood. We hear gunshots all the time,” said Johnson.

One time, a bullet even came through the wall of his home. When he was 14 or 15, he found a hobby that helped keep him out of trouble.

“I went and bought this little keyboard from Radio Shack and it had what you call a sequence on it, so that you can lay tracks and make music on it,” he said.

While Johnson was making beats, some of his friends were developing ‘rap sheets.’ Years later, the same can be said about hundreds of youth across Macon-Bibb County.

According to data from the Bibb County Sheriff’s Office, more than 700 youth – ages 10 to 24 – were charged with violent crimes like aggravated assault, rape, and robbery in the last three years.

Additionally, more than 40 people in this age range were charged with homicide. You can see a shift begin around age 16, showing that’s when crime begins to spark in youth.

“People do things they think they have to do to survive,” said Johnson.

He says he remembers old friends and classmates stealing things, simply because they didn’t have enough money for clothes or food.

In other instances, he says he watched people fight violence with more violence, creating a never-ending cycle.

MORE: Peacing Together: Bibb lieutenant coaches youth football to teach discipline

“Somebody has got to be there to step in and be there to help you with the stuff you need,” said Johnson.

For him, that person was his mother, but not every kid in our community has a positive role model. He’s hoping to help combat that, even if he can only reach a few young people at a time.

“I try to be a positive influence, even when things get rough, even when somebody shoots through the house, even when somebody breaks in,” said Johnson.

Right now, he’s teaching some children to play the piano and the drums, hoping to show them that ‘there’s more to life’ than walking the streets.

As for Mr. Ferrier, he’s checking on his neighbors in hopes that building trust and relationships with teens and his neighbors will start to shift our community’s mindset.

“If we don’t take care of each other, then what’s the purpose of being here,” he asked.

We can't do this on our own, we need your help too. We'd like to invite you to take a brief survey on your thoughts on youth violence in your community.

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