Communities must act now to keep youth safe and reduce violence

Simeon High School students join an anti-violence rally in the Loop March 31, 2008 in Chicago, Illinois. Chicago Mayor Richard Daley and then Illinois Governor Rod Blagojevich joined several hundred Chicago school students at the rally which was held to draw attention to the students murdered in the city. Photo: Scott Olson/Getty Images

LOS ANGELES ( – Summer kicks off in just a few weeks, bringing backyard barbeques, beach parties, and usually an increase in gangrelated and youth violence.

As police statistics and dozens of recent murders already indicate, many aren’t waiting for summer’s official June 21 start date to set off the heat. Ten people were killed recently in less than one month in just two major American cities.


On May 25, according to police and news reports, 18-year-old Dannie Farber, a star high school football player, was fatally shot multiple times while he and his girlfriend dined at his favorite Compton, Calif. restaurant. A spate of drive-by shootings and other violence in Chicago, between May 16-18, took the lives of nine people and left 13 others wounded.

Fifteen-year-old Alex Arellano was found in a Southside Chicago gangway with a gunshot wound to the head, his body severely beaten and burned. Family members said they took him out of school because of problems with gang members and they believe he was lured to his death. The alleged suspect charged with Alex’s death is 15 and part of a gang responsible for his murder, police said.

More time, less for youth to do Gang interventionists, law enforcement, religious leaders and youth advocates concur that youth violence stems from many factors. They insist meaningful solutions require everyone’s participation to avoid losing more lives as the days get hotter.

“Violence doesn’t start overnight because of weather, it kicks up during the summer because people are spending more hours on the street and there’s less for young people to do,” said Kim McGill, co-founder of the Youth Justice Coalition/Free L.A. a Southern California-based youthled movement that works against race, gender and class inequality in the Los Angeles juvenile justice system.

The need for youth employment is greater during the summer because there is more free time and less support–such as lunch and bus passes relied on during school days she said. Curfews often end when the school year does, leaving youth mingling in parks and clubs, and vulnerable to gang recruitment, said activists.

Operation OG1, a Houston, Texasbased gang and prison rehabilitation program, believes the close age range between some parents and children plays a big role in the crisis. “It’s not like you have that distance of respect from the parent and the kid anymore because the lifestyle that they live is so close … a lot of the kids are living in survival conditions dealing with the parents that they have. There’s no guidance, direction, nothing,” Mr. Gordon said. On the other hand, he added, a youth’s gang family may provide more discipline, respect and protection.

Summer jobs hard to find Youth advocates point out that when the U.S. recession struck, the pool of already weak summer jobs for youth suffered.

As the numbers of recessionweary working adults, recent college grads and even seniors looking for work increased, youth stood fewer chances of getting a job. Still, communities don’t have to rely on conventional government jobs programs to employ children, advocates said.

“If we just started there on the block with how many of them need summer jobs? How many are interested in entertainment, engineering or some other profession? We can pay the 80 percent of our children who don’t have jobs for lawn care or community service oriented programs that can teach them something,” said Enoch Muhammad, co-creator of Hip-Hop Detoxx, a Chicago-based program that uses hip-hop music and the science of self-improvement to empower youth.

According to Ronald Hampton, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Black Police Association, summer jobs not only help youth to avoid violence, but can also help instill a lifelong work ethic. Those who can’t work can volunteer in their communities, he said. “Volunteer work is about getting opportunities to do things that may interest them and introduce them to employment in the real work world. A lot of times grass needs to be cut, there are clean up projects in the summertime,” he said. This is an opportunity to get young people involved and keep them off the street and out of violence, Mr. Hampton told The Final Call.

Reallocation of resources to make a difference

Ms. McGill argued proper education is a major solution to youth violence, but cities must provide everything from funding and financial resources, to recreation programs and follow up, especially for youngsters society has given up on or considers hard to reach.

The Youth Justice Coalition has established the Free LA High School, which enrolls students year round. It is designed for young people tied to the juvenile justice system because most youth who are arrested have difficulty re-entering school. The reenrollment process can take weeks, sometimes months, because of difficulty getting academic transcripts from when youth were in detention, Ms. McGill said.

The Youth Justice Coalition is seeking just one percent of L.A. County’s law enforcement budget, which would mean $100 million to support peace in the community, the youth activist continued. The money would be used to create 1,000 youth jobs, put 500 gang intervention workers on the streets, and open youth centers in every community from 3 p.m. to midnight, especially those neighborhoods under gang injunctions.

Mr. Gordon, who uses his certification in anger management and 16 years of incarceration to reach youth, believes a lot of violence can be alleviated if youth are taught better decision-making and coping skills. Low self-esteem is a key cause of the violence, said Mr. Gordon, who helps parents spot warning signs of trouble and connects families with mentors and service programs. “In Houston it’s most violent, probably in the afternoon hours, is the hottest time. It’s unfortunate that down here in Texas, Houston, there are no summer programs for the kids … the last two years were probably the worst summers that we had here. In fact, the city was overlooking all of the problems that we were having with Black on Black violence here and were not even recording the murders properly as homicides, but were putting them as suicides to receive federal money,” Mr. Gordon said.

Wrap around services needed In a previous interview, attorney Connie Rice of the NAACP Advancement Project, told The Final Call that gang reduction will require a whole wrap around, neighborhood impact model which includes government, religious, faith-based groups, businesses, and civic groups–including gang intervention, schools, families and others responsible for their behavior– coming together.

In 2007, the city of Los Angeles commissioned Atty. Rice to study its gang problem. The study produced a comprehensive report with sweeping recommendations for wrap around services to address the problem. “We need to change our culture. We need to change how services are delivered. We need to change the outcomes. We need to make sure that our whole village is organized to keep every child safe 24/7 in the home, on the way to school, in school, after school and in the parks when they play, and we have activities for them just like a suburban community,” Atty. Rice told The Final Call.

Keeping every child safe requires all hands on deck and some unity, she said.

“What we do is we fracture and start fighting over crumbs and we fight over head diva in charge and all the rest of the nonsense that we do. The schools act like they’re not responsible for changing that failure and so until we get a whole government approach, whole community approach, it’s not going to work,” Atty. Rice said.

Mr. Hampton noted the majority of youth are not involved in gangs but may be part of crews, or loose knit neighborhood groups of young people hanging out. Crews are not always associated with the violence seen in large gang structures, he said.

“There are enough organizations that are made up of men and women who tend to interact with these young people from time to time and contrary to popular belief, they tend to listen to them. All of them are reachable. The question is, do we have the time to invest?” he asked. Churches already house programs for seniors and child daycare, he said. It would be worth it to get youth engaged and provide resource programs operating in the summer, the former police officer said. Unfortunately, Mr. Hampton told The Final Call, a lot of cities, including Washington, D.C., are trying to rush through summer crime initiatives that give police broad powers to identify bad neighborhoods, suppress those neighborhoods, and add youth to gang databases.

“Those aren’t the things we ought to be working on. There are young people who are out there who know … its incumbent on them to sort of move themselves away from those kind of things that can get them in trouble. I mean they know what’s right and what’s wrong. And if they want to be around to finish their education, to get some good things, jobs in the real work world, then they are going to have the people who are trying to provide them services meet them halfway,” Mr. Hampton said. Of course, he said, youth should make good decisions, avoid situations that would lead to entanglement in the criminal justice system, and do things to get an advantage in education, employment and basic productivity.

“The young people are really a lot smarter than I think we give them credit for sometimes. But still, that doesn’t let the government off the hook in terms of providing the necessary services and other things that they need for young people as well as young adults also,” Mr. Hampton said.

In recent years, some gang intervention organizations and law enforcement agencies have begun to work closer together to curb violence. The ENOTA Project, Inc., was created by Student Captain Dennis Muhammad, of the Nation of Islam, to train a volunteer corps of men to work as “peacekeepers” in their own neighborhoods. ENOTA stands for Educating Neighborhoods to Obey Those in Authority.

Mr. Muhammad has provided sensitivity training to police officers for more than 20 years. Crime and violence in Black and Brown communities is a social problem, he said. “You can’t solve our problems of crime and violence by more police officers arresting our people. It must be a community effort of social programming. Without the churches, mosques and other grassroots and faith-based organizations, we will never solve the problem,” he said.

For peace, there has to be connections between community based organizations, law enforcement, activists and leaders to develop proactive strategies that are specific to stopping rising crime in their neighborhoods, Mr. Muhammad said. “The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan gave us the theme that must become a reality. We must accept responsibility to make our communities decent and a better place to live and I see more community organizations coming together in the name of peacekeepers to patrol areas that seem to be the most violent and crime ridden areas and that can become a model for other areas,” he said.

For the strategy to work, youth must be met where they are, on street corners, in the projects and in the communities, not just in the mosques, churches or town hall meetings, Mr. Muhammad added. “We are responsible for the process and they have to be responsible for the outcome for this to work.

Nowadays, kids do not know how to resolve issues without it becoming violent because of peer pressure, neighborhood stuff, gang issues and just not knowing,” said Jerald “Pee” Cavitt, founder of Chapter Two, a community crisis intervention effort based in Inglewood, Calif.

Chapter Two partners with schools and community centers to prevent youth violence, domestic violence and other high-level crises. Most of the work takes place on schoolyards and in the streets. Youth have been bombarded with so many violent ways to solve issues that they automatically resort to violence, said Mr. Cavitt.

“Start at home, with your children, nieces, nephews, brothers, sisters, aunties and uncles, even mothers and fathers going in that direction. People need to learn mediation methods to learn how to bring disagreeing parties or neighborhoods to the table because all disagreements don’t have to be violently settled. Implement conflict resolution in your house or on your own block, at the store, in the schools, most places, to teach each other how to resolve issues non-violently,” Mr. Cavitt advised.

Spiritual intervention is needed Student Minister Tony Muhammad, Western Region representative of the Nation of Islam, insists that if the gap in youth spiritual connections to God were bridged violence would subside. “The prevailing problem in many of the urban cities of America in modern times now is not the White man or Caucasian pulling the trigger or hanging us from trees or burning us on the cross like they used to but the enemy of the Black community has become our own ignorance of who we are in relationship to God,” he said.

Bro. Enoch agreed the place to first find peace is within. He encourages youth, and anyone on the verge of violence, to examine their minds and bodies and see what is needed. “First you have to start where you live … if I’m spiteful or vindictive, then that colors my perceptions, and I’m just in my own household,” Bro. Enoch said.

Diet and physical conditions can contribute to irritability and conflict, the activist noted. Bro. Enoch said he found out a couple of years ago in a Chicago area school, after two girls were murdered, that youth were very dehydrated. Students were fighting with police and when the question was raised, “What can we do with these young people?” “Water,” he replied.

“I told them that 85 percent of these children are dehydrated. They’re walking around eating Flamin’ Hots (with red, spicy potato chip flavoring) in the morning, Laffy Taffy, sugary chews candies. If you ask them are they drinking water, that’s the last thing they drink,” Bro. Enoch said. When the school had the students drink more water, it began to see a positive change in behavior, he said.