Although homicide rates are declining in Cleveland, city data shows children are facing rising risks of violence and murder.
Of 165 homicides investigated by Cleveland Police in 2023, 22 victims were children and eight were under the age of 10. All were victims of shootings or child abuse. One in five victims were under the age of 25.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime, and I’m the senior member [of Cleveland City Council],” Michael Polensek, chairman of the council’s Public Safety Committee, told Fox News Digital.
He said the current level of youth violence — against minors and perpetrated by them — is unprecedented.
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Although there were slightly more killings in 2022, with a total count of 168, 19 of those victims were under the age of 18. In 2021, according to data provided to Fox News Digital by Mayor Justin Bibb’s office, there were 171 homicides in 2021. Thirteen of those victims were underage.
Three-year-old Curtis Lee James Witcher, whose cause of death was determined to be blunt force trauma after he was found unresponsive in a stroller, was among those child victims. His mother, Timmeka Eggleton, was indicted on charges of aggravated murder, felonious assault and endangering children, according to Cleveland.com.
Another 3-year-old, Luiz Diaz, was killed in a drive-by shooting in October, Fox 8 reported.
“I’ve never seen anything like this in my lifetime.”
“These are kids who are future scholars, artists, athletes, engineers and doctors – all who tragically will never have the opportunity to pursue their dreams due to gun violence in our community,” Bibb wrote in a statement to Fox News Digital.
According to data provided by the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, there were 41 juveniles — primarily from Cleveland — incarcerated on murder charges in 2023. They were allegedly responsible for a total of 30 victims in 27 incidents. The year before, there were 35 accused killers behind bars with 27 total victims. In 2021, there were 22 with 16 victims.
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The mayor of Cleveland Heights called for gun violence intervention after a 15-year-old girl and 22-year-old man were shot dead in the first days of the year, according to WEWS. In December, Bibb announced 29 organizations across Northeast Ohio would receive grants from the Cleveland Safety Fund to help curb violence in the city, particularly among youths, WKYC reported.
“I believe, as I’ve said publicly, I believe our juvenile justice system is totally broken in this county. Kids and families are not a priority,” Polensek said. “Our priorities are out of whack in the county.
“What do we keep getting force-fed? The Browns, the Cavaliers, the Indians, sports complexes. Let’s spend billions on that stuff and not the funds that we need to deal with juvenile delinquency, violence, mental illness and despair,” Polensek said.
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“I have great frustration,” he continued. “We have to figure out how to save these kids from themselves and protect the community. If that does not happen, this situation is not going to get any better. In January 2024, I see nothing on the horizon to tell us that the county is really understanding the severity of the problem.”
Jennifer Johnson, the director of Cleveland’s Canopy Child Advocacy Center, told Fox News Digital reports of child abuse have declined since 2020. Since that year, however, she has seen an “increase in the lethality of the abuse.”
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She said the nonprofit has seen an increase in minors who have “access to weapons and engaged in violence” over the past two years.
“For the last several years we’ve been seeing this coming. There’s been an increase in mental health issues because there aren’t a lot of therapists out there,” Johnson said. “That’s because there is less pay for therapists. There is just a storm with things having a domino effect on each other.”
Cleveland has seen a “continued loss of consistent resources” for troubled youth, she said. Although there have been plenty of pop-up programs, she said, they “have a hard time getting funded for sustained periods of time.”