Community leaders say it’s time for systemic change following shooting outside of East High School


By Andrea May Sahouri, Des Moines Register

After a 15-year-old was shot dead outside of East High School in a drive-by shooting and two other teenagers were injured, community leaders are calling for systemic change to address gun violence in Des Moines.

During a news conference Tuesday, the leaders called for collaboration, action and investment in the city’s underserved and low-income communities.


“We did not just lose one young man; we did not just have one young lady now in critical condition and another in serious condition — we lost six individuals in our community. These are young people, too,” state Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad said, referring to the six city teenagers who were each charged with first-degree murder in the killing of Jose David Lopez, 15.

“We saw teachers sitting on the wall, shaking… Our babies should not be scared to go to school; our teachers should not be scared to teach,” Abdul-Samad continued.

In a statement Tuesday, President Joe Biden underscored that sentiment.

Biden noted that four years ago, tragedy struck Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a former student shot and killed 17 people. And a little over three months ago, a student at Oxford High School in Oxford, Michigan, was charged with shooting and killing four students.

“Between these tragedies are shootings that happen every day without making headlines,” Biden continued.



According to the Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit that tracks the number of gun violence incidents in the U.S., the drive-by shooting outside East High School was the 24th shooting on school property this year.

‘This is life or death’

In Des Moines, Rev. Rob Johnson, a Des Moines-based associate minister and community activist; Kameron Middlebrooks, a leader of the Des Moines branch of the NAACP; Ivette Muhammad, chief operating officer of Creative Visions, a human development nonprofit; and Izaah Knox, executive director of Urban Dreams, joined together to call for change.

“This is bigger than just this one moment … The work didn’t just start yesterday,” Johnson said. But, “we can’t do it alone. We have to do it together — we can heal from this if we work together.”


Abdul-Samad, who founded Creative Visions 26 years ago to combat violence and assist victims of crime, said that means bringing together existing programs and meeting at-risk youth where they are.

It also means bringing together people from different groups and experiences — such as at-risk youth, business leaders, legislators and more — to address the systemic issues that are the root causes of violence, such as a lack of mental health resources, a lack of opportunities, low socioeconomic status and food insecurity, he said.

“This is life or death,” Abdul-Samad said. His own teenage son was shot and killed in 1997. He said Tuesday that he made a promise to himself that his son’s killing would be the last in Des Moines, knowing it wouldn’t be true.

At every funeral Abdul-Samad has attended for a child killed in Des Moines since then, he said, community members say the same thing every time: “This has to be the last.”

“It’s not going to be the last,” Abdul-Samad said. “Unless you do the work.”

Knox, of Urban Dreams, said he sees the lack of hope at-risk youth have for themselves and their futures. He said the community needs to show up for young people so they can see that they are not alone, and that they are loved, cared for and supported.

“They need to have hope for their future, that they know that they can achieve every single dream that they want to,” Knox said. “We have to show up. We have to be brave.”

And for the families of the victims of Monday’s shooting, Johnson said: “There is help, and you are not alone.”

In a statement Wednesday, Joe Henry of the League of United Latin American Citizens in Des Moines also expressed grief over the loss of a young Latino community member.

“This violent attack on our children should never have occurred,” Henry said. “We need to take care of our children. Our schools and state government must do their jobs to protect our youth and increase staff now counselors, mental health professionals and opportunities for our kids to excel and have hope.”

Henry said Jose Lopez’s death shows that young people need community.

“This is more than a deadly gang. This is violence caused by lack of resources and little to no gun control,” he said.

Andrea Sahouri covers social justice for the Des Moines Register. She can be contacted at [email protected], on Twitter @andreamsahouri, or by phone 515-284-8247.

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