Youth Violence: Causes and Solutions
The school shootings in Littleton, Colo., and Jonesboro, Ark., touched off discussion nationwide about preventing and dealing with youth violence. Voices Against Violence, a conference Oct. 19-20 sponsored by the House Democratic leadership, aims to bring teenagers into the debate. One hundred and thirty members of Congress will host 350 teenagers for the two-day event. Students and panelists including Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder and Adam Yauch of the Beastie Boys will hold a town hall meeting on Wednesday, and the teenagers will present their resolution on youth violence to members of Congress.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), along with D.C. student Suliaman Harris, a senior at Archbishop Carroll High School, discussed the conference, youth violence and prevention programs live online on Tuesday, Oct. 19. The transcript follows:
washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon, and welcome. Can you tell us about your experiences with this conference on youth violence? Are you encouraged by this priority placed on dealing with youth violence?
Eleanor Holmes Norton: I spoke this morning to the parents and other grown-ups who accompanied these young people to the conference. I told them they were sitting in a hearing room where we usually take testimony, but this is unusual testimony, straight from the people. This is a historic conference, the first of its kind, on an issue that had been perhaps the overriding priority for members of Congress. We decided to deal with this issue in a way that's different calling in the young people themselves so that they not only hear from blow-hard members of congress on C-SPAN, but so we get to hear directly from young people who are taking actions in their communities to violence.
Suliaman Harris: I'm encouraged because a lot of youngsters today believe that violence is part of society. They just accept that violence is a part of society, so they don't stand up and say this is wrong. I'm really excited that people are taking a stand.
Washington, D.C.: D.C. is a notoriously violent city. What has been the biggest challenge in introducing anti-violence programs for kids in the city? How difficult is it to convince kids that the "straight and narrow," as hard as that may be, is the way to go, when they can get money and things as a result of committing crimes?
Eleanor Holmes Norton: First, I want to correct the notion that the District is more notoriously violent than any other city. The District is on par with any other large city; it is not more violent than the rest. We've got to focus on the notion that cities have become the hubs of violence. That is largely because they have become th repositories for guns in America. Family life has deteriorated as families move out, and there have been too few alternatives to violence for youngsters, such as places to play, schools that are in the kind of slums that you want to leave as soon as the bell rings instead of after-school programs that hardly exist. Because children often come from single-parent families in large cities such as the District, they need proxies for those families, such as after-school programs, expanded recreational facilities and other alternatives that point them toward productive lives.
Suliaman Harris: It's hard to keep kids on the straight and narrow because kids these days want the finer things quick, and they know it will take longer on the straight and narrow path. I know most kids my age want money now instead of after graduating from college, but that's only temporary. But if you continue down the right path and graduate from college you can get a job for life, and that's long-lasting. When you have after-school programs that encourage you and support you in doing that; encouragement from adults and after-school programs help a lot.
New York, N.Y.: "Youth violence" has so often been considered an urban problem read minorities, gangs and the poor until this latest string of violence committed by affluent or middle-class suburban kids. Can you talk about the differences in dealing with youth violence? Is there a difference between social and economic class, or is violence just violence?
Eleanor Holmes Norton: There is a difference it may seem a surprising difference. It appears now that the violence is a cultural phenomenon that knows virtually no difference between city and suburb. That's largely because of media and cultural sources such as computer games, CDs, cable and TV, which to everywhere in America. The difference appears to be when and how youngsters get access to weapons. Inner-city youngsters live with weapons because the cities are dumping places for guns, almost all of them illegal because cities have bans on handguns. Suburban kids are just as fascinated with guns, but they get them from gun shows or from their parents who keep them for safety or hunting. The sooner we face the fact that guns have infected an entire generation, virtually equally, because of the influence of adults, the sooner we will go at it with multiple tools tailored specifically to city and suburb.
Suliaman Harris: I think there's a great difference between kids living in low-income areas and kids in the suburbs. Kids in lower-income areas may turn to violence because they cannot have the nice things they want so they will do what they want to get them. Unlike kids in the suburbs.
Washington, D.C.: To the student:
Have you had any experiences with violence in your school or community? What have you done about it?
Suliaman Harris: I have had many experiences in my community. sometimes when you're new to a neighborhood and the kids really don't know you, they pick on you for no reason. Most kids would retaliate, causing a bigger problem. I decided not to retaliate, but to try to set an example to other kids, to try to encourage them to stop what they're doing and be more like you. You don't always have to do an eye for an eye. You've got to be the better person and let things go.
washingtonpost.com: That was the last question Del. Norton had to leave for a hearing, and Harris was headed off for a conference workshop. Thanks to them, and thanks to everyone who participated today. In addition, take a look at the discussion on violence with House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt and three St. Louis-area high school students.
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