Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Symposium Seeks to Combat Youth Violence Through Dialogue

Symposium Seeks to Combat Youth Violence Through Dialogue

By Tracy Zupancis Hoya Staff Writer

Members of advocate groups, legislators, policy makers and researchers gathered in Gaston Hall yesterday for the First Annual Georgetown Youth Violence Symposium, organized by Dr. Alan J. Lipman, visiting assistant professor of psychology. He designed the symposium to bring together groups that are working towards understanding and preventing youth violence.

According to Lipman he sought to bring these groups here in order to provide “an opportunity for both education and dialogue, from and among many of the central policy makers, researchers and advocates in youth violence work.” He said, “We need to separate the information from the misinformation, to understand what is really occurring with, in and among our nation’s children.”

The seven speakers concentrated on explaining their respective organizations and dispelling misinformation concerning youth violence. They also discussed the role the media and guns play in causing violence and forming the nation’s perception of youth violence.

The first speaker, Betty Chemers, acting deputy administrator of the Office of the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, explained the approach the federal government has been taking concerning juvenile violence. “The goal of the Office of Juvenile Justice is to provide national leadership, coordination and resources to develop, implement and support effective methods to prevent juvenile victimization and respond appropriately to juvenile delinquency,” she said. To this end, collection of data and statistics is used.

Chemers noted that, “we are now seeing declines in juvenile arrests for murder, robbery, aggravated assault, forcible rape, motor vehicle theft and arson, and this is despite the news. Juvenile crime has been going down consistently the past four years, and somehow our media has not really caught up with this.” However, she added that in 1997, juvenile homicides, while the lowest in the decade, were still 21 percent higher than the average of the 1980s. Also, the number of female juvenile offenders has not decreased in the past four years.

The Office of Juvenile Justice aims its “comprehensive strategy” at the children most at risk for being offenders and at those who have just entered the system. This strategy acknowledges that there is not a simple answer to crime but focuses on various social programs aimed at helping these juveniles, explained Chemers.

Inner-city schools in New York and personal experiences with these schools were the main focus of Dr. John Devine, a member of the White House Campaign Against Youth Violence and a former professor at New York University and Georgetown who presented an outline of the goals of the White House Campaign.

“There is a normalization of violence in our society, and there is the subtext that nothing is ever really going to change,” Devine said. He added that the metal detectors, security guards and identification cards in place at a Brooklyn high school he worked in imply that violence is expected.

At a deeper structural level, Devine noted, the question remains why society allows the large, overcrowded schools in the inner city. Although the United States should be the safest country in the world for children, in Devine’s opinion, he noted that 12 times as many children under the age of 14 are killed in firearm deaths in this country than in the other top 25 industrialized nations.

Devine remarked that he saw the central problem concerning youth violence in the United States “is a general sense of hopelessness that anything can be done to create change,” adding that “this defeatist outlook is ultimately a lack of faith in democracy.”

Though Devine said that he did not see the prevalence of youth violence in this country as the fault of the media’s perception of violence, he did note the need for a sustained effort against violence in the media and de-glamorization of violence.

The National Campaign Against Youth Violence, explained Devine, “will develop a national media and public awareness campaign to raise consciousness about effective means of reducing violence, and desensitizing the public concerning the normalization of violence. If attitudes are culturally constructed, they can also be culturally changed.”

Downsizing overcrowded schools and creating grass roots mentoring programs were two viable steps Devine cited that can be taken towards preventing youth violence.

Explaining the negative role of the media, Vincent Schiraldi from the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice and Justice Policy Institute concentrated on the coverage of youth violence.

“Coverage … by the media is badly skewed toward hyper-violence, presented completely out of context of the social factors that foster delinquency,” Schiraldi said. He added, “Such non-contextual exaggerated coverage negatively effects public opinion and policy-making in juvenile justice resulting in a populace badly misinformed about the behavior of its own kids and a body politic responding in increasingly punitive ways.”

As an illustration of such media misrepresentation, Schiraldi cited one week in November 1997 when two violent crimes were committed by youths in Ocean County, N.J., and in Pearl, Miss. The same week, Attorney Gerneral Janet Reno announced a significant 31 percent decline in juvenile crime over the previous three years. The killings, Schiraldi noted, received prominent coverage, while the attorney general’s press conference failed to gain coverage in even The Washington Post.

“The media is the enemy of rational thought on the crime issue,” Schiraldi said. He added that non-contextual crimes do not occur due to social ills such as poverty, lack of education, or access to guns. Policies that focus on these ills in response to a non-contextual crime “don’t work, have huge fiscal and human cost, and have turned America into a nation with the highest rates of incarceration, executions, and violent crime in the western world.”

Between 1992 and 1996, he noted, while homicides in America were declining by 20 percent, coverage of homicides on ABC, NBC and CBS evening news increased 721 percent. Six times as many people ranked crime as a problem in 1996 and 1992, he said.

Schiraldi maintains that school shooting are uncommon, not on the increase, children are not committing murders at younger ages, and that killings in rural communities are exceedingly rare. There were about 55 school-associated violent deaths in the 1992-1993 school year, and about 25 in the 1998-1999 school year, including those that occurred in Littleton. By comparison 88 people were killed by lightning last year. While 12 kids died at the school shooting at Columbine High School, 11 die at the hands of their parents every two days in the United States. Less than three percent of homicides in America involve someone under 18 killing someone else under 18. He cited statistics saying killing by children under 13 is at its second lowest rate since when the statistic began to be taken in the mid-1960s. Schiraldi also explained that Americans believe that 43 percent of homicides are the fault of those under 18, while the percentage is actually nine percent.

“It is no more fair to stereotype America’s 20 million high school students as Luke Woodham, than it would be to taint all adults with the sins of Timothy McVeigh. Our kids are good kids,” remarked Schiraldi, adding that the media and policy makers are “stuck” in the bad information they put out.

Schiraldi pointed to Sen. Orrin Hatch’s, R-Utah, preamble to his juvenile crime bill, which was erroneous in its statement that juveniles are committing an increasing number of crimes, as exemplary of the “insidious” misinformation that exists in policy-making.

He recommended that the media follow the example of the television station in Austin, Texas, which does not cover violent crimes unless it fits certain criteria and the Chicago Sun-Times, which refuse to publish stories about violent juvenile crimes that occur out of their state, and actually editorialized against doing so.

Dr. Lipman remarked, “we are suffering an epidemic of blindness. Blindness as to the real nature and cause of youth violence. Blindness to its basic humanity, its roots in real human causes rather than sensationalized causes, and so blindness in the face of our retributive urges-understandable though they may be-to solution.”

Emphasizing the importance of understanding children without a critical eye, Lipman noted, “children suffer.” As parents, a focus on power, independence, interdependence and belonging proves integral to understanding, not blaming, the nation’s youth. “In a child predisposed to regression by temperament and early environment, media can inform these violent impulses. [It] can provide content to the unformed impulse such that these impulses are given substance.”

“I want to help families to be able to better understand that these are actions with real human causes-that they come from human suffering. That doesn’t excuse such behavior, but if we don’t try to understand it, just close our eyes to it and call it ‘senseless violence’ we will not prevent the next Littleton,” he added.

Lipman called for a new national dialogue on youth violence that replaces simple one-factor solutions with a more complex and accurate explanation for why youth violence occurs.

In addition, Jill Ward of the Children’s Defense Fund explained the position of her organization concerning youth violence, which is centered upon rehabilitation of juvenile offenders.

Expanding and explaining the youth violence bills soon to be considered on Capitol Hill, Ward noted that the bills might make mistaken applications, as well as statistical errors, as previously expanded on by Schiraldi.

Rep. Eva Clayton, D-N.C., explained that youth violence is by no means “brand new,” as it has been a significant problem for a long time in the inner city. She focused on a multiplicity of solutions that incorporate the community in order to prevent youth violence.

She called for a combined effort between parents, teachers, ministers, communities and state and local government to prevent youth violence, adding that government can sometimes overreact. “You don’t treat juvenile offenders by locking them up. You need other options. We need legislation that makes sense, that speaks to the conditions, but is not just a quick response,” explained Clayton.

Joseph Sudbay addressed the critical role that handguns are playing in youth violence and how political interests prevent this role from being identified and examined.

Lipman remarked, “The symposium went extremely well. We brought together people with different perspectives, and from different organizations. Misinformation was addressed, as was the necessity for multifaceted solutions, and an understanding of the human dimension underlying the issue of youth violence.”

Lipman added that he hopes to make the symposium an annual event.

The event was over four hours long and was covered live by C-SPAN.

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