young and armed  the scourge of teen gun violence

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Continued: Minneapolis teen struggles to avoid line of fire

Malik’s only concerns that day are whether his mother will buy him a $10 pennant emblazoned with the Grave Digger logo (she does) and whether she’ll spring for a toy Grave Digger truck (she doesn’t — too expensive).

Margaret and her husband, Jose Morgan, moved to the North Side 15 years ago. They know the pressures that are on Malik. Margaret, 40, battled bullies in south Minneapolis as the oldest of three children, went in and out of the juvenile system and ran with a gang for protection. Jose, 40, grew up on Chicago’s West Side, where “every breath most of the people you knew breathed was gang violence.”

He talks to Malik about staying away from gangs and guns, about finding something you care about and giving it 150 percent.

But just outside the door of their home in the Willard-Hay neighborhood, the threat lingers.

Some researchers have found that exposure to gun violence creates a cycle of crime. Adolescents who are witnesses or victims of gun violence are twice as likely to go on to perpetrate such behavior, according to one 2005 study of 1,500 youths in Chicago.

Young inmates imprisoned for gun crimes echoed what those academics have found, telling the Star Tribune that they turned to armed violence after experiencing trauma. One was shot while getting off the bus. Another saw his uncle ambushed by gunmen outside the Boys and Girls Club. Another was at a barbecue when a man walked up and fired shots, leaving a friend paralyzed.

Ferome Brown, who has made a career of steering young people away from gangs, said many want to break the pattern.

“If you come to young adults and young kids about this situation, the first thing they say is, ‘It’s been too much bloodshed. What can we do to make things right, because we don’t want these things happening, where we’ll have to leave, we have to go to prison or we’ll die,’ ” said Brown, a former gang member who is now CEO of Urban Youth Conservation in Minneapolis.

Malik already knows how quickly a young life can be taken away.

He met Ray’Jon Gomez playing basketball two or three years ago at North Commons Park, and they became fast friends.

As months went by, Malik disliked the other kids Ray’Jon was hanging out with. So did his mother, who lectured Ray’Jon when he came around the house. Finally, she laid down the law.

“I know you see him, but you’re not allowed to be with him,” she told Malik. “Because at any given time, with the things they choose to participate in, you can get hurt.”

One day in August 2011, she turned on the TV and saw the news: Three boys were riding bikes one summer evening near the playground of the old Willard Elementary School when someone started shooting. A 12-year-old who was with Ray’Jon was shot in the shoulder. Ray’Jon was hit in the back and jumped off the bike. Then he got up and ran. His body wasn’t found until hours later, sprawled face down between two houses.

When Margaret told Malik about it, he froze, not believing her.

Then he fled the house, running all the way to Ray’Jon’s house on Russell Avenue, confronting his friend’s father.

“Is Ray’Jon dead?” Malik asked.

Yes, said his father, his face grim.

Malik ran a few blocks to where Ray’Jon was found. Children and neighbors swarmed the scene. News cameras hovered.

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