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TEXAS VIEW: Fort Worth park shooting warns of a tough summer for youths - Odessa American: Views

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TEXAS VIEW: Fort Worth park shooting warns of a tough summer for youths

THE POINT: Hot weather, limited entertainment options and bored teenagers could lead to more gatherings.

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Posted: Wednesday, May 20, 2020 2:30 am

There are so many problems with the recent shooting in Fort Worth’s Village Creek Park, it’s hard to know where to begin.

First, of course, is that the violence is senseless and deplorable. Five people were shot. All appear likely to survive, thank heavens. But a gunshot wound can profoundly alter one’s life and health. Let’s hope the park victims avoid that fate.

Next is the fear of a resurgence of gang violence in Fort Worth. Enough incidents have piled up that it’s a real concern. No one wants to go back to the bad old days of the 1980s and early ‘90s. Fort Worth has spent too much money and effort to bring down crime rates.

Much remains unknown about the shooting. What we do know is alarming: Police were present, trying to get the crowd to disperse, and yet shooters still fired about 30 rounds, according to witnesses. The Fort Worth police gang unit is investigating, and the circumstances are alarming enough that southeast Fort Worth community leaders are warning about the need for immediate intervention to prevent more violence.

And for many, the biggest question of all is: What the heck were more than 400 people doing packed into a public park at a time when public officials are practically begging people to stay home to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus?

The shooting offers a stark warning about the limits of social-distancing messages, particularly those aimed at young people. A lot of improvement is needed, especially with summer upon us and bored teenagers looking for things to do.

It’s pretty clear now that, for a significant share of the Dallas-Fort Worth area’s population, the stay-at-home message has expired, if it ever took hold. From Gov. Greg Abbott down, Texas leaders have failed to persuade many that they should avoid mass gatherings.

We have largely praised Abbott’s orders on re-opening the state as a measured approach. But they’ve left local officials without any meaningful way to prevent big crowds. And the emphasis on getting back to business has diluted the message that the virus remains dangerous, especially for vulnerable groups.

It didn’t help when Abbott undermined the enforcement of his own order after a Dallas judge jailed salon owner Shelley Luther, who opened her business several times in clear violation of the rules.

Lost has been the message that even as they seek to rebuild their financial and social lives, people should still take precautions.

And for young people, a number of dangerous trends could converge, especially if gun violence rises again. Hot weather, limited entertainment options and bored teenagers could lead to more gatherings. Juvenile justice Judge Alex Kim has said he’s already seen an increase in youth murders since the lockdown began.

Fort Worth leaders must be prepared to act. They’ve been understandably occupied by the many challenges of the pandemic, but a new, long-term focus on engaging youth and attacking gang activity may be necessary.

For police, the options are limited. Officers must avoid needless arrests to limit personal contact and keep the jail population under control. It’s disheartening to see how the Village Creek crowd ignored sirens and officers’ orders to disperse.

Community leaders and families, many of whom have already engaged, have a role to play, too. The police can’t do it all.

“All we can do … is ask for the public’s assistance,” Fort Worth Officer Buddy Calzada said the night of the Village Creek shooting. “The Police Department can’t do this on our own. We need our citizens to partner with us. We need our citizens to be right by our side.”

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