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Unmasking Youth Violence

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David Harding, PhD

David Harding, PhD, Associate Professor of Sociology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan (credit: David Harding)

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Vicki Briganti – WWJ-TV Writer / Producer / Editor

Silence the Violence

I witnessed an arrest in a local mall parking lot. I’d never seen a glock pointed at a civilian in real life. Two young men were face down on the ground, being handcuffed by police officers. I stood gawking at a safe distance, making sure the cops weren’t using excessive force. Had the men been shoplifting? What would happen to them next?

Oddly enough, two days earlier, I attended a lecture Unmasking Youth Violence at Unity of Livonia Church by speaker David Harding, PhD, an associate professor of sociology and public policy at the University of Michigan. He spoke on his research in low and high poverty neighborhoods in Boston. He interviewed black and Latino boys aged 13-18 to study patterns of violence. Could this research be applicable in Detroit? In his Boston model, at-risk youth have a distrust of authority, including police and teachers. Protection and coping strategies, such as “tough fronts” and “street stares,” are adapted to survive in these unpredictable environments on a daily basis.

Getting Involved

The concerned citizens in the auditorium wondered: What can we do to reduce teen violence in our neighborhoods? Dr. Harding highlights some key solutions:

  • Identify and intervene with “impact players” before violence escalates
  • Reduce unstructured time in the streets
  • Understand the neighborhood and develop positive relationships
  • Since the most disadvantaged youth usually won’t access services on their own, social service providers must go to them
  • Expand kids’ horizons; get them out of their environment
  • Become a mentor and role model to at-risk kids

Some social benefits for reducing violence include fewer teen pregnancies, higher rates of school attendance, and better test scores to name a few. You can volunteer your time or donate to organizations like YMCA, Alternatives for Girls, Big Brothers Big Sisters, United Way, and Detroit Urban League.

Give Peace a Chance

According to the 2011 U.S. Peace Index, the most peaceful state in America is Maine. Michigan ranked 31, a slightly less peaceful place than Alaska. The index defines peace as “the absence of violence” and uses a set of five indicators, including homicide rates, violent crimes, percentage of the population in jail and the number of police officers and availability of small arms (per 100,000 people) to rank the states. The data was drawn from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, Federal Bureau of Investigation and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Related story

In Michigan, Dr. Harding says we spend more on incarceration than we do on higher education. That’s a sobering fact in light of the proposed cuts to education in Gov. Snyder’s budget plan. Perhaps the tentacles of legislation will reach deeper into our communities than we can predict today, possibly affecting future rates of violence.

To find out more about Dr. Harding’s research, read his book Living the Drama: Community, Conflict, and Culture Among Inner City Boys. He can be reached via email.

>> More Motor City Musing With Vicki Briganti

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