Community searches for answers as violence escalates

caines | 10/11/2012, 5:30 a.m.

One of the greatest challenges for any young man is coming into their own as an adult. But in the 21st century, rites of passage for urban youth are increasingly becoming associated with how efficiently one can use a firearm. For inner city youth, a gun has become their badge of honor and proof of their masculinity. But as bullets have no names and because of the lack of mediation programs that would help guide young Black men away from gang warfare or other acts of random violence, what we are witnessing is the slow death of an entire generation most often at their own hands. Miami is following the example of other large U.S. cities, most notably, Los Angeles, New York City and Chicago with body bags piling up in record proportions. One question that has arisen in the wake of the constant carnage is whether we the adults who are supposed to be ushering these young men into manhood are actually unable to find alternative paths for our young men or if we are simply afraid of them?

Cuts in programs putting more youth on the streets

Lt. Bernard Johnson, deputy commander for community relations for the City of Miami Police Department, believes that Miamis recent increase in youth violence has a lot to do with the failure of the community to engage with young people in a more positive manner. We need to get involved in our youths lives again like we used to, he said. And when I say we I mean the community, schools, parents and the police department all of us. Violence hasnt erupted over night its been increasing gradually. Today youth have so few options, especially during the summers. Weve seen cuts in employment programs that once gave them a few dollars, constructive activities and a reason to stay out of trouble. Now, too many young people are unsupervised and see the streets as their only means of entertainment and activity. As for the increase in gang violence, something that Miami police have previously acknowledged, Johnson says the goal is to identify and dismantle them before they become too large and powerful. A few years ago it was just some guys hanging out now theyve become much more organized with specific traits like the gangs we see in L.A. or Chicago. Our numbers arent close to those reported by police in those cities but if were not careful, we could see ourselves reaching an equal amount of shootings and deaths.

Strategies of yesterday insufficient for today

Dr. Waldo E. Johnson, Jr., associate professor of the School of Social Services, University of Chicago, has been a leading force for over 25 years with projects geared towards young Black men that are also fathers. As Chicago registered its 400th murder for the year in late September, a 25 percent jump over last year, he says that the problems facing young Black males are becoming more complex and more insidious. Black males have fared poorly since first arriving on these shores, he said. We have to address their access to education, health and human capital development all at the same time if we want to change things and really help young brothers. You cant address one issue without dealing with the others. Sadly, Black youth are more likely to become entangled in juvenile justice and incarceration than they are mentoring programs, business internships or college. Thats their reality. Boys struggle to become men and have few positive models so any act of disrespect can result in their picking up a gun and using it. Because many are not efficient marksmen, their bullets strike innocent bystanders more often than their intended targets.