“If I Grow Up”–Not “When”


DC summit brings together officials from six cities to swap ideas on curbing the rise in youth violence.

The high level of violence involving youth in the United States is “absolutely unacceptable” and must be reduced before it gets worse, U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a summit on preventing youth violence Monday in Washington.

Duncan, who ran the Chicago public school system before joining the cabinet of President Barack Obama, acknowledged that he had failed to make headway on the problem in Chicago, where “we were losing one child every two weeks,” and he lamented the fact that when some young people in his home city talk about their future, they say “if I grow up” rather than “when.”

The two-day summit, organized by the White House, brought together officials and activists who have launched violence-reduction programs aimed at young people for a wide-ranging look at the factors, such as drugs, that have led to increased youth violence in many urban neighborhoods across the U.S.

White House drug policy director Gil Kerlikowske, said that his office had “completely revamped” its anti-drug advertising campaign to make it more relevant to contemporary youth. Kerlikowske, a former Seattle police chief, also noted that the increasing number of police executives directly involved in youth crime prevention was a positive sign.

At an earlier panel, officials from Boston, Detroit, and San Jose, CA., expressed optimism that youth violence could be addressed through better collaboration among government agencies, the business community, and community groups.

U.S. Attorney Carmen Ortiz of Boston said that “being tough on crime” doesn’t solve the problem. Deputy Detroit Mayor Saul Green added, “We’re going to have to fix [the violence problem] for our young people. There’s a tremendous responsibility for us to get this right.”

A prime purpose of the summit was to provide a forum for six cities–Boston, Detroit, San Jose, Chicago, Memphis, and Salinas, CA., to discuss the various types of programs to fight youth violence that they have developed over the past year in collaboration with federal officials.

Today, Attorney General Eric Holder told summit participants that they are “sending a powerful message – that, in this country, we will not give up on our children. Let me say that again. We will not give up on our children. We will protect them in every way we can.”

Ted Gest is president of Criminal Justice Journalists and a contributing editor of The Crime Report.

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