Unmasking Youth Violence

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

  • Rosemary Doyle

    Interesting article! Youth violence is not something that is brought to our attention often enough. Dr. Harding’s research makes it clear that some rather
    uncomplicated interventions are available to keep youth off the streets. One that
    he mentiioned, also, was extending the school day or at least changing the school attendance hours. This is working in some areas. Thank you Vicki for
    writing this blog on youth violence.

  • Colleen Mills

    Thank you so much for attending our Citizens for Peace meeting on Youth Violence.
    I’m going to print your excellent article and take it to Senator Stabenow’s office when our members visit to discuss the impact a Department of Peace would have on all forms of violence, including youth violence. I’m taking the information on the US Peace Index and requesting that the Senator share the information with her colleagues. Thank you for the great work you are doing Vicki.
    Colleen Mills
    Citizens for Peace President.

  • ryan

    It is strange that this article chooses to bring up Snyder’s cuts. Education does not eliminate violence, opportunity does. The fact is that most youth violence occurs in poverty-stricken areas where there is no hope to “get out”. The only way for these kids to make is to engage in illegal activity.

    Money in education is not necessarily the answer. We have thrown much money at education in this state over the years and what has that gotten us? Very little in return. That is why many support cutting funding to schools that are not doing a good job of educating their students. They view it as a waste of money.

    Until the inner city can attract jobs you will have this. Jobs mean money and money equals opportunity.

    The idea of a Department of Peace is nothing but a boondoggle for those who want an ever expanding government. The problem of violence can only be correct at a local level. Whatever funds we allocate to this should go to those who are close to the situation and understand it best. It should not go to people whose contact with in trouble youth is tenuous at best.

  • David Harding, University of Michigan

    Thanks for writing about these important issues. To underscore the importance of violence for educational outcomes, I want to call attention to a study by Patrick Sharkey of NYU that was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences last year. Sharkey found that in Chicago kids whose neighborhood experienced a homicide in the week before an achievement test scored significantly worse than kids in otherwise similar neighborhoods without a recent homicide. See the paper here:
    Sharkey, Patrick. 2010. “The Acute Effect of Local Homicides on Children’s Cognitive Performance.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107:11733-11738.

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