SAVING OUR YOUTH

Bolton: Columbia community must come up with ways to save our kids

Associate EditorJanuary 5, 2014 

Warren Bolton

TIM DOMINICK/TDOMINICK@THESTATE.

— I WASN’T surprised recently when I got emails angrily declaring that black people commit practically all the crime and that African-American youth drive the gang problem. It’s up to black families and communities to solve the problem. Meanwhile, more police are needed to lock the thugs up, they said.

Well, I asked for it. Sort of. A few weeks back, I wrote that if we’re going to curb the gang problem in Five Points or anywhere else, it’ll take more than beefing up the police force. Families, churches, individuals and, yes, local governments are going to have to pitch in to stop the pipeline of young people joining gangs and turn wayward youth around.

Unfortunately, to some, crime and gangs break down only one way — it’s an issue of race. Take care of your own.

Without a doubt, far too many black youth, particularly black boys, commit crime and join gangs. But the fact is that children and adults of all races and creeds commit crime and join gangs. And people of all races are victims of crime and gang violence. Although we have different shades of skin color, we’re one community.

It’s important that we all take an interest in not only stopping gangs but helping youngsters develop a strong sense of self, work hard in school and become decent, productive citizens.

While I’ve written about the need for more black people to do more, many already are doing good work. It’s just not enough. It’s going to take more to address crime. These aren’t black issues; they’re communitywide issues that aren’t going away without all our help.

Do we want families — mothers and (all-too-often-absent) fathers — to take the lead? Absolutely. But some can’t and others won’t give their children the nurturing and discipline they need. When the family fails, the community must step in to save those youth — and sometimes the families — to the benefit of the children themselves and the greater society. We can’t simply wait until they join gangs or commit crimes so the police can get involved; that’s too late for many.

The bottom line is that all of our children are, well, all of our children, regardless of what they look like or what ZIP code they’re from. If we fail to recognize that, we might as well give up and simply wait until gangs and criminals invade our quaint little section of town, followed by our homes and businesses.

Take Five Points, for example. Gangs have been a scourge to many neighborhoods for years. But they didn’t become public enemy No. 1 to Five Points leaders until they brought crime and mayhem to the urban village.

With increased police presence to rein in gangs, now is the time to identify and support productive efforts to prevent youth crime and violence. What can this community do to help young people reject gangs and other negative alternatives and become positive people who are confident and hopeful about their future?

That’s the question I was asking readers to assist with, and a number of you responded with suggestions as well as old and new programs and initiatives you think are worth trying or expanding. This is some of what you said:

•  “Somehow we have to reach the communities. In the neighborhoods where these thugs live, no one wants to get involved. They don’t want to call the police when they see a problem.”

“A campaign like ‘click it or ticket’ needs to be done but it needs to ask if you know where your kids are now and it needs to run starting at dark every night. It needs to touch on the importance of doing homework and understanding the only thing standing between you and a good job is that education.”

•  One reader noted that the Department of Juvenile Justice has implemented an evidence-based anti-gang program in elementary and middle schools in 20 counties. Teachers and probation officers are delivering the program to thousands of youth.

•  “I have been involved in working gangs in the FBI for 20 years in three different states. Increased enforcement creates space for change, but absent a proactive change plan, the problem can come back stronger with younger members filling (the) vacuum who can be more violent coupled with prior gang members back on the streets after prison.”

“The most effective model, as researched by the Department of Justice, is known as the ‘High Point’ model originating from High Point, NC. Enforcement plays a pivotal role, but it relies on not arresting minor players despite having evidence in exchange (for) their families’ involvement, entering programs, and staying out of the element. … The state of NC has adopted it as its statewide model for drug/gang task forces. It takes a lot more coordination of moving parts, but it is our best chance to stop the cycle.”

Others suggested taking a look at older programs such as Big Brothers Big Sisters and local fatherhood initiatives. Some offered up fairly new programs such as Elevations, a nonprofit in Lower Richland that offers mentoring and other help to at-risk teens ages 12-19.

In the coming weeks, I’ll write in detail about some of these and other efforts. First up is a Wednesday column on Badges for Baseball, a new program being offered through the attorney general’s office.

Saving Our Youth

An occasional look at organizations in our community that are working to channel young people into positive pursuits.

Previous columns

Jan. 5, 2014 - More police alone isn’t the answer to gangs in Columbia

Dec. 12, 2013 - Columbia community must come up with ways to save our kids

Reach Mr. Bolton at (803) 771-8631 or wbolton@thestate.com.

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