PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — The mayors of all seven cities in Hampton Roads recognize the need to curb violence among many of our young people.

Mayors from Hampton Roads held an online forum Monday night to discuss the rise of local youth violence and what each locality is doing in response.

Hampton Mayor Donnie Tuck hosted the live online “Mayors’ Forum” on Monday, April 12, at 7 p.m. which can be viewed on the city’s Facebook page. Community members were welcome to watch and write questions.

Virginia Beach Mayor Bobby Dyer, Chesapeake Mayor Rick West, Portsmouth Mayor Shannon Glover, Suffolk Mayor Michael D. Duman, Norfolk Mayor Kenny Alexander and Newport News Mayor McKinley Price joined Tuck.

The mayors were joined by Anthony Smith, executive director of Cities United, a national network focused on eliminating violence in American cities related to African American men and boys. Cities United has a goal of reducing Black male homicides by 50% by 2025.

The group discussed the impact of youth violence in the region, focusing on ways to prevent crimes, including:

  • How can we address the root issues in society?
  • What are cities doing now?
  • What are partner agencies and non-profits in our cities doing?
  • What are the opportunities for volunteering, mentoring, and other programs?

“Youth violence doesnt know any border, and it affects us as [the] 757,” said Dyer.

In Virginia Beach on March 26, multiple shootings — one officer-involved — happened between 11 p.m. and midnight. Three shooting scenes, two dead: Donovon Lynch and DeShayla Harris. Police said nine others were injured.

Police later arrested three men, all under the age of 22. Three more men — two of whom are under 20 years old — are accused of selling guns to felons.

On the same night as the Virginia Beach shootings, four people were shot in Norfolk. Among the injured were a 17-year-old girl and two other teens.

Dyer said changing gun violence begins with attitude.

“It just seems that civility and mutual respect are no longer common in civil discourse anymore,” Dyer said.

Norfolk’s mayor, Alexander, added that reducing violence also requires hope.

“We must ensure there are good paying jobs in the region for those youngsters, but also that the wages being paid are livable wages,” Alexander said.

Portsmouth’s mayor said looking at gun violence among youth as a public health crisis would mobilize government and community resources to tackle gun violence.

Also discussed Monday: the role of gang activity and illegal guns, community policing, and the simple act of reaching out to young people.

“If the first time you talk to a youth is ask them a questions about a crime, or something that has happened, then you’ve lost from the beginning,” the Newport News mayor, Price, said.

But there’s still a lot to talk about.

Local officials said the forum is a kickoff to Hampton events recognizing Youth Violence Prevention Week, also called the Urgency of Now Symposium.

The city also provided statistics on gun violence from CDC 2019 data by The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence:

  • Firearms are the leading cause of death for young adults ages 20-24, accounting for almost one in four deaths in this age group and over half of the deaths among young Black men, specifically. While firearms drop to be the second leading cause of death for the general population for ages 25-34, they hold their position as the leading cause of death among Black men through age 39. 
  • Young Black males (15-34) are especially disproportionately impacted, making up 2% of the population but accounting for 37% of all gun homicide fatalities in 2019. Their rate of firearm homicides was more than 20 times higher than White males of the same age group. 
  • Also in 2019, firearms were the leading cause of death for American children and teens ages 1-19. Of these youngest victims, 44% were Black.