CHICAGO PARENTS AND COMMUNITIES CAN HELP STEM VIOLENCE
Teens and Adults Brainstorm Remedies for Violence as a Public Health Problem
CHICAGO (November 27, 2012) – Parents and community support are among the first line of defense against violence, according to Chicago teens in the Columbia Links journalism and news literacy program housed at Columbia College Chicago and adult panelists who spoke out against violence as a public health problem at a recent Town Hall Meeting, “Don’t Shoot, I MUST Grow Up.” Teens and panelists also outlined remedies for violence in a white paper, “Treating the Violence Epidemic.”
Besides the loss of life, violence causes many other stress-related conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, depression and obesity, all found at high levels among people living in violence-ridden communities. Links student Lily Moore from Northside College Prep High School found that other health effects accrue to youth themselves. Twenty-three percent of spinal cord injuries are caused by gun violence, according to the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation Paralysis Resource Center.
Kyler Sumter, a Links student panelist from Lindblom Math and Science Academy, found that Chicago’s violence rates are nearly double those for New York and Los Angeles, both larger cities. She found that 60 percent of Chicago’s homicides are committed by gang members, according to Chicago Police Department (CPD) Superintendent Garry McCarthy. She also interviewed Bob Jackson, executive director of CeaseFire Roseland, who said, “We have to start loving our young people.”
“The most important thing we need to do is listen,” Jackson added. “When young people talk, don’t react, don’t cut them off. If I keep shutting you down, you’ll just find someone else who will listen (gangs).” Roosevelt Vonil, president, Greater Chatham Alliance, said at the Town Hall meeting that parents need to stop fighting with and hitting their children. “We can’t do this. We need to find a different way in today’s world.”
Others stated in the white paper that children must be taught how to control their anger by adults acting as positive role models in their lives. “We don’t need parents showing up at the hospital. We need them before they (teens) pick up the gun,” McCarthy said. Tony Sculfield, WGCI radio personality said, “You (parents) may not know what they are doing, but know what your child is capable of doing.”
Former gang member and Town Hall panelist Marcus Carothers said he didn’t have a strong male figure in his life as a youth, and filled the void with gang affiliation. He spent time in jail where he found the courage and spiritual connection he needed to turn his life around. He is now mentored by the Chicago Southern District United Methodist Men.
Cure Violence (previously called CeaseFire) is a Chicago organization which also tries to intervene in a gang member’s life to stop the cycle of violence by mentoring young people and showing them how to handle anger and building trust. Jackson says rebuilding a community to nurture our children is crucial.
“It was very hard to start (CeaseFire) because young people don’t trust. They have been burned so many times,” he said. “They have been burned by people in their family. They betrayed them, they went to prison on them, they died on them or they just gave up on them. We had to build trust in the community and help each other.”
Mentoring and after-school programs are also an antidote to violence, said Diane Latiker, founder of Kids Off the Block in Roseland, which gives young people a place to go after school where someone accepts them and helps them to find fulfilling activities. “They call me mom. I accept them all,” she said. Several panelists agreed that no child is bad, but some have been injured emotionally, and then take out their anger on others while seeking acceptance by joining a gang. “What is community for?” asked Latiker. “To pick up that kid that isn’t being parented.”
Some communities like Chatham and Beverly have managed to keep violence at bay, although no community is immune to this health threat. How do they do this? “You don’t have to like them (your neighbors), just know them,” said Sixth District Police Commander Eric Carter. “Block clubs are a deterrent to crime; even socializing helps. Criminals see you interacting and don’t want to bother with that block.”Matthew Wettig, Links student panelist from
Lane Tech High School, found that shootings and homicides on blocks with block clubs in Chicago’s 10 most violent communities had decreased sharply since 2009, according to CPD data on 74 block clubs. Collectively, shootings have dropped 43 percent and homicides have declined 80 percent.
“You need to make yourself visible,” Carter said via the white paper. “You need to know what everyone on your block is doing. You need to notice something out of place. Nosy neighbors prevent crime. I’d love to have 100,000 nosy neighbors.” Some residents identify alleged drug houses and other dilapidated structures where criminals hang out for police. Many panelists said that residents are not “snitching” when they work with the police to deter crime.
Many also said that guns need to be taken off the streets. “Guns make interpersonal violence more lethal. If you could trade fistfights and sticks for shootings, Chicago would be a much better place,” said Jens Ludwig, PhD, director, University of Chicago Crime Lab. Links student panelist Wesley Bogard of Harlan Community Academy, also found in his research on healthy communities that increasing job opportunities, improving education and stabilizing support systems are keys to preventing youth violence.
Bogard found that 56 percent of those arrested for murder in 2010 were less than 25 years of age. Sixty-five percent of individuals arrested for violent crime in 2010 were under 24 years of age, according to CPD. Clearly, efforts to stem violence in Chicago must focus on teenagers and young adults.
Teen panelists’ research on violence and its remedies is compiled in a white paper, “Treating the Violence Epidemic,” which is on the Columbia Links website, www.columbialinks.org. A video of the Town Hall meeting is also on the website along with a publication of teen essays from the summer Links academy, “Don’t Shoot, I Want to Grow Up.”
Columbia Links provides three academies each year in which Chicago high school teens can learn about news literacy and reporting. They are taught how to research the crucial issues that affect them, seek out authoritative and credible sources and produce stories that bring new awareness to their readers and for themselves. The McCormick Foundation and Dow Jones News Fund provide funding for Columbia Links. To read student articles and view videos, visit www.columbialinks.org
Columbia College Chicago is an urban institution that offers innovative degree programs in the visual, performing, media and communication arts for nearly 11,000 students in 120 undergraduate and graduate programs. An arts and media college committed to a rigorous liberal arts curriculum, Columbia is dedicated to opportunity and excellence in higher education. For further information, visit www.colum.edu.
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