"We know what to do when a bridge falls. But what do we do when a kid falls? We need to surround children with the support and resources they need to build them back up.''
Minneapolis Mayor R. T. Rybak
A call to action against youth violence
- January 12, 2008 - 4:00 PM
One Minneapolis teenager went to three funerals in three months for peers who had been murdered in 2006. A community college student was motivated to turn away from gang life after being shot by other gang members. And a high school student lamented that too many adults expect the worst from kids and treat them accordingly, prompting some youth to live down to those expectations.
Their stories, told during a Minnesota Meeting forum on youth violence last week, were heavy with pain and frustration. Along with others who appeared via video, those young people were fed up and ready to do something about the violence.
That sense of frustration and strong will to change comes through in a recently released city strategy to combat youth violence. The plan, formulated by a task force after months of testimony from youth, parents, service providers, police and others, suggests a comprehensive, public-health approach to protecting young people. It deserves support -- and participation -- from all sectors of the community.
The plan, rolled out last week by Mayor R.T. Rybak, one of three chairs of the task force, contains 34 recommendations for preventing youth violence. They range from early intervention to expanded mentoring efforts and street outreach.
The recommendations are wisely geared toward achieving four broad goals:
• Connect every youth with at least one trusted adult.
• Get involved at the first sign that youth could become violent.
• Don't give up on kids even if they've offended.
• Finally, motivate adults -- on the theory that children learn to be violent -- to hold up mirrors to themselves. Grownups help create the culture that gives birth to deviant behavior, and they have a responsibility to help children unlearn violent tendencies.
This call to action is urgent, as it should be. Although violent crime among Minneapolis youth dropped somewhat in 2007, it still occurs at appalling levels. From 2003 to 2006, murders of young people between the ages of 15 and 25 ranged from a low of 15 to a high of 26. During the same time period, arrests for gun possession among 10- to 24-year-olds ranged from 723 to 1,021; felony assaults were in the thousands.
And according to the Minneapolis Urban League, about 1,700 students were picked up for curfew violation or truancy in 2003; by 2007, the number had grown to more than 3,100.
Some of the plan's recommendations are already practiced in the city, and some have been tried before. Mentoring is certainly not a new concept. Nor is the idea of early intervention.
Perhaps this time around, the frustration is strong enough to prompt the entire community to step up, make the necessary cultural change and help save children.
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