Saturday, April 12, 2008

Solutions to violence: complicated and layered

About 15 years ago when my kids were attending Kilmer Elementary in Rogers Park, a teenager was shot and killed less than 50 yards from the school, which is across the street from Sullivan High School.

It was a traumatic event for the community and it triggered an all-out safety effort among parents and administrators at the two schools. I won't ever forget the months that followed when other parents and I stood on sidewalks and corners after school, wearing orange Parent Patrol armbands. I worked a particularly vulnerable corner with a mother who knew how to talk to teenagers, and I learned from her how to ask groups of older teenagers – in a voice that was both respectful and firm – to move on until after the little children had made it home from school.

The fear and determination I felt in those years has come back to me often in recent months as I read the ongoing reports of killings and beatings near schools across the city. Violence that takes our youth away from us is debilitating at multiple levels: on the blocks where it happens, within the affected families and school communities, and for the city as a whole. How can we consider Chicago a strong city, after all, if children are killed on the streets and we can't stop it?

The fact is, we have many of the tools needed to prevent or reduce violence, and many examples of effective partnerships among community groups, youth programs, the police and violence-prevention groups. Maureen Kelleher just wrote an excellent report on youth-led efforts in Little Village, in which she captured powerful lessons from youth who have been affected by violence.

So I asked Maureen: "Shouldn't there be comprehensive efforts at the neighborhood level that create a level of protection for kids?" She answered with a question: "What would that program look like?"

That's the life-or-death question that a new University of Chicago study will try to get at, but it seems to me that an academic study isn't where the answers are going to be found. They'll be found on the street by committed youth, organizers, police, school administrators and others who work together to create a resilient web of safety.

The question remains: What would that program look like?


Maureen Kelleher said...

Well, Patrick, after asking you that question about what such a program would look like, I think part of the answer is it wouldn't look like a program, or programs are only part of the answer.

As Fr. Bruce Wellems of Holy Cross/IHM church in Back of the Yards pointed out to me after Mass this morning, even a program as well-regarded as CeaseFire is only "a spoke on the wheel" of what it takes to build peace in a neighborhood.

You and other parents stepped up to patrol after the shooting near Kilmer, and I bet all of you were parents who didn't hit their children, nor hit each other in front of their children, nor in any other way told their children by word or example that fighting was an acceptable way to solve a problem.

Schools often tell children not to hit, but I've only been in a few that thoughtfully went about the business of showing and teaching other ways to solve a conflict.

And looking even deeper into root causes, kids usually don't fight as much when caring adults have eyes on them. With many parents working long hours because wages don't house a family easily, kids often must fend for themselves.

I think efforts to link existing programs and develop better health and mentoring services for young teens, like Integrated Services in Schools, have a lot of potential because they work on multiple layers of the problem at once.

Most importantly, adults being present, listening to young people and helping them take their ideas from vision to reality will probably lead to successes we adults might find hard to imagine.

Patrick Barry said...

Right you are. It's not programs that do it by themselves, but people, business owners, networks of communication, neighbors who pay attention, parents and grandparents and older siblings and the whole web of relationships and "eyes on the street" that Jane Jacobs described in her 1961 classic, The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

But the question stands: If these elements aren't in place or have broken down, how do you rebuild and nurture the human networks that make up a healthy neighborhood? What pieces of the puzzle are being put into place in particular neighborhoods or through specific strategies? What's working?

seo@egetall said...

Has anyone found any books on surviving a mass shooting? I can't find much about it on Amazon. There is one book called Fight, Flight, or Hide, but that's about it. Anyone heard anything about that one?