Get serious about ending youth violence
By Ed Wells, RRSTAR.COM Posted September 10, 2010

Ed Wells
Columnist for Rockford Register Star

Who is responsible?

Chicago Police Superintendent Jody Weis met with a group of former and current Chicago gang leaders Aug. 17. He warned the group they could be held responsible for some of the violence that is turning some Chicago neighborhoods into war zones.

As some of you might know, Chicago is undergoing a phenomenon of young people being killed by other young people. Many times these killings involve innocents caught in the hail of bullets. While some of these killings can be called gang related, many are not.

Weis was trying to reach out to people, at least some of whom can be considered scoundrels, to bring some semblance of peace and order to the distressed communities. Itís said that the meeting didnít go too well. Past feelings about the Chicago police came up.

Some of the gang leaders, after the meeting with the superintendent, held their own news conference. They wanted to explain to anyone who would listen that they were not responsible for the violence that has marked Chicago the past couple of years. ďWe canít be held responsible for someone elseís actions,Ē the gang leaders said.

Well, who is responsible? Someone, something has created a large group of mindless knuckleheads who have little regard for anyone. These knuckleheads, quite simply, are putting a bloody stain on the reputation of Chicago as an international city.

Whoever is responsible must change the dynamics of this violent equation.

Weis tried to start a dialogue with the men in the neighborhoods who are supposed to protect it, not rape it. Weis tried to say to the gang leaders, ďHelp us; itís our kids who are paying the price for this violence.Ē Now all sides are upset at Weis for making this plea. Iím not. I applaud Weis for his courage. Iím even grateful to the gang leaders for showing the world just how scared they are.

Most of the gang leaders donít want this kind of mindless violence seen in Chicago and other cities; itís bad for business. That business is drug trafficking.

If they could, I believe, the gang leaders would curtail most of the violence. But they canít. The gang leaders helped create these brutes; now they canít control them. Thatís the scary part.

There is no leadership, just rage, a rage that has caused a self-hate among too many boys, a rage that has left too many young men alone, bitter and dangerous.

Who is responsible?

And this isnít happening only in Chicago. Here in Rockford I see babies crawling around in some neighborhoods without diapers on. I see mothers more interested in clubbing than parenting. I see grandparents pushed to the limit trying to care for their kidsí young ones. I see fathers displaced, disillusioned and disposed of. I read of kids forced to ďduck and coverĒ in their own homes for fear of stray bullets.

Who is responsible?

At this stage does it really matter who is responsible for the start of all this? More to the point, what can be done about it? It is not going to be magically fixed.

We are going to have to get serious about providing options and real opportunities for kids. We have to create a role for the older men to guide the young men rather than exploit them.

All kids deserve to grow up in a safe environment. Kids deserve to have real choices about right and wrong. Kids deserve a future.

Thatís the message Weis was trying to send to the gang leaders. They didnít listen. Perhaps we should.

Ed Wells of Rockford writes a weekly column for the Rockford Register Star. If you would like to comment, e-mail Copyright 2010 Rockford Register Star. Some rights reserved

Letter to Rockford Register Star
By Jordan Riak, posted September 10, 2010

Dear Editor:

Yes, we need to get serious about street gangs, bullying, and youth violence (Ed Wells: "Get serious about ending youth violence," 9/10/10).

All serious problem-solving has a logical starting point. First, one must identify the source of the problem, go there, make the obvious called-for changes, monitor the results, then fine tune.

Consider this analogy. Let's hypothesize that patrons of a particular restaurant experience food poisoning at an alarming rate. The rule is, eat there and you're probably going to get sick. So, what should public health authorities do? Should they chalk it up to coincidence? Or blame the victims because maybe they didn't wash their hands before sitting down to eat? That would get the restaurant off the hook, but it wouldn't solve the problem. Obviously, the first thing they ought to do is inspect the kitchen. As I said, go to the source.

Addressing the problem of street gangs is no different. Youth tend to behave as well or as badly as they've been treated, and behavior is learned very early. Street thugs who dish it out to each other with fists and bullets, learned their first lessons in violence when they were barely out of infancy. The whoppins inflicted on them by their earliest caretakers laid the foundation for their subsequent violent behavior. Does it surprise anyone that the people who populate our prisons are the very ones who were raised primarily with punishment? "Garbage in, garbage out," as they say.

Therefore, permit me to propose a 3-part solution to the problem of youth violence. The benefits would be far-reaching. Here, in brief, are the basics:

  1. Include parenting instruction as part of the standard high school curriculum. A passing grade would be a prerequisite for graduation.

  2. Parents who are recipients of welfare assistance should be required to participate in parenting classes. Failure to attend would disqualify aid.

  3. Extend to children from birth to adulthood the same legal protection against assault and battery that applies to all other citizens.
If we do what I've suggested, I predict that violent street gangs will fade into history.

Jordan Riak, Exec. Dir., Parents and Teachers Against Violence in Education (PTAVE); P.O. Box 1033, Alamo, CA 94507; Tel: 925-831-1661; On the Web at

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