- Faith & Family
Experts point to rise in truancy, fewer mentors as reasons for rise in crime
It’s an obvious fact here in Miami-Dade County that young Blacks are finding themselves at the crossroads of life with far too many taking the path filled with heartache, frustration, the juvenile justice system and even death. But the seminal question that continues to plague parents, politicians and preachers alike is ‘what can we do to stem the tide?’
In the first part of this two-part series [Oct. 10-16, 2012], we invited community leaders to discuss potential solutions to reducing what has become a disturbing rise in violence among Black youth. Here we continue that discussion, then turn to those involved in combatting crime — including the Miami-Dade State Attorney and spokespersons for both City and County police.
Boys need male mentors
Marc Henderson, 63. vice president of operations for 100 Black Men of South Florida has long been involved in mentoring Black youth, given his 22 years with the organization. He says there are many reasons why young Black youth are becoming drawn to lives of crime. But he believes the lack of positive males in their lives, especially for boys, is a major problem.
“There comes a time in a child’s life where they need a man’s influence,” he said. “That applies to both both boys and girls. Women have been raising children alone for centuries but they can’t be
both mom and dad. Without role models and without wholesome activities, our kids’ fertile minds are ripe for the wrong kinds of things. Then there are economic factors. Unemployment for Black youth 16- to 19-years-old is 36.7 percent — double the national average for Black men over 20 [14.2 percent and six-times greater than the rate for white men over 20 [6.6 percent]. Our kids need the church to become more involved and they need more discipline. Most of all they need role models. NBA great Charles Barkley once argued that he should not be considered a role model for our youth but I disagree. These are young minds we’re talking about. The 100 Black Men believe that if we give kids positive enforcement and let them see us doing positive things, they will follow our lead. But leaders need to be humble. Like that picture of Barack Obama bending down so a little boy could touch his hair to see if theirs was the same — that’s the image we need to perpetuate on a daily basis.”
Truancy: An early indicator of future troubles
In an article written by James D. Rowell for Police Magazine, the author interviews hard-core gang members that have been in and out of prison. He detects a pattern that confirms what law enforcement officials have been saying for many years: gangs grow because the gangs provide kids with basic human needs including security, love, friendship, acceptance, food, shelter, discipline, belonging, status, respect, identification, power and money.
Here in Miami-Dade County, three Black teens, Willie Barney, 19, Dedrick Brown, 20 and Tavares Santiago, also 20, while not officially identified as gang members, recently joined forces on a violent and deadly crime spree that eventually led to the shooting death of one of their victims, 50-year-old Barrington Kurr — killed in front of his wife for his jewelry [the wife was also shot but survived]. According to State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle, the trio is now in police custody facing a number of charges, including one count of first-degree murder, two counts of attempted murder and six counts of armed robbery with a firearm. The investigation is ongoing.
“When you look at the youngest of the trio, Brown, 19, he was the one carrying the gun and had just been released from prison,” she said. “To our knowledge he’s been committing crimes since at least 16 when he was first arrested. But nothing seemed to help him — not juvenile for youth programs, boot camp or state prison. Our information tells us he had only been out of prison for eight days before he began committing more crimes. What we desperately are trying to understand is why and how some children become killing machines.”
Rundle says she has been involved with at least three grand jury studies, reviewing school records and family histories as potential indicators of those who may eventually commit crimes.
“Based on my experiences and the studies I’ve seen, close to 85 percent of kids that get into legal trouble had been truant with little or nothing ever being done about it,” she said. “Our office once had a great deterrent to crime — the Truancy Intervention Program [TIP] — we operated for 10 years until 2004. Then the State cut the funding. There are plenty of prison beds for these kids but programs that intervene early in their lives. Why are more willing to wait until they get into trouble than helping them and their families when they are much younger with issues that can be resolved?”
Lieutenant Bernard Johnson, deputy commander community relations, City of Miami Police Department agrees.
“We attribute a lot of juvenile crimes to truancy and note that more and more youth are neither attending school regularly nor are they involved in any kind of after school programs,” he said. “When you play sports or are in an arts-related program, there tends to be a grade point minimum requirement, there are assigned supervisors and parents get updates on what’s happening. But for those who skip classes regularly, there are ample opportunities for them to get bed led into vandalism, loitering and drugs. Fights often occur because truant youth go to rival schools or to lower grade schools.”
Is Johnson optimistic? He answers no.
“We had a grant that helped up do truancy sweeps and educate youth so they understood the potential risks they faced,” he said. “The grant also helped us better monitor truant youth. But that money has been reduced the past two years. And we expect further cuts. It’s tough to keep an eye on every child.”
By D. Kevin McNeir