Vitti, pastor address violence among youth

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – When it comes to violence among young people in Jacksonville, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said enough is enough.

Last week, 16-year-old Devron Crowden was shot and killed at his bus stop while waiting to go to school. Vitti said it's time to start taking action.

He's teaming up with Pastor John Guns and other members of the community, including officers from the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office, elected officials and parents, to try to make a lasting change in students' lives. Vitti said to make it work, the district needs everyone's support.

Of the 107 homicides in Jacksonville so far this year, 11 of those killed were younger than 18.

"One shooting is too many; one victim is too many," Vitti said.

He said it's time people came together to talk about solutions, rather than blame certain communities for the violence or simply shrug it off. That's why he's teaming up with Guns, who leads Operation Save Our Sons.

"When I see the level of violence that's occurring in the greater community, when we know there are shootings taking place in front of bus stops as students go to and from school, frankly it's unjustifiable. It's wrong," Vitti said.

"It's a huge undertaking because it's not just about what happens at school during the day, it's all the dynamics once school is done and they go home," said Guns, pastor of St. Paul Church of Jacksonville.

Vitti said parents really need to get involved, too. He said they should talk to their children 10 minutes a night about their day, and that's really all it takes to keep an eye on what's going on in their lives. Vitti said getting kids involved in extracurricular activities will also help keep them out of trouble.

"This is about saving our sons, but also about saving our future, because at the end of the day, if we lose sons, we lose future," Guns said.

Vitti and Guns, along with JSO, will hold a Let's Talk event at 1 p.m. Wednesday with young men at three different schools -- Raines, Ribault and Jackson high schools.

They're hoping they can connect with students, answer any questions they may have, and spread the message that their lives are valuable and to make better decisions. After the holiday break, Vitti and Guns plan on picking three more schools to hold the event.