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The Black Youth Manifesto Part 2: All Violence Isn’t Senseless

Most people, regardless of race or class, will tell you that violence of any kind is deplorable. Yet, solutions to ending violence, particularly among young people, are as varied as the colors in the rainbow. All across the country in urban pockets and rural communities, churches, civic groups, and not-for-profit organizations have held stop the violence forums and prayer vigils.  Unfortunately, violent acts of youth against other youth continues to persist unabated. I’ve heard many older black folks say, “the problem starts at home”, without following the retort up with anything more than shaking their head in disgust. To address a huge problem like youth violence on  a micro-level we need to do more than just blame parents and school systems.

If folks really believe that “it takes a village to raise a child”, then community action is necessary. I don’t believe in merely locking up the “perceived” perpetrators. In fact, I believe the prison industrial complex is the worst place to send a child, even one who may have a criminal history. I also, believe that while law enforcement is necessary, it can also serve as an obstacle to truly cleaning up crime, especially in minority communities.

Groups like Ceasefire, a community based organization, in Chicago are using unique strategies to not only curb violence, but radically transform young minds. Ceasefire uses a three-pronged approach to reducing violence in their communities: 1. Identification and detection, 2. interruption, intervention, & risk reduction, 3. Changing behavior and norms. The aforementioned steps not only provide alternative steps for deterring crime, they also provide tools to disassemble the normalized perception of violence as a viable alternative in conflict resolution.

Although, the criminal justice system has been less than fair to young people of color, there is still genocidal warfare taking place in black and brown communities all over the country. Over the Thanksgiving holiday my longtime childhood friend was murdered in a drive-by shooting on the street that I grew up on as a young kid. I wish I could say that she was the first one of my peers that had been murdered, but I can’t.

While I don’t know who the assailant was or even the motive, I can say that I didn’t matter to me. What mattered was that a 22 yr old American Soldier and mother of an infant had her life taken away in a brash act of violence.

No matter what elected officials and political pundits may try to tell you, crime is not created in a vacuum. The anti-social behavior exhibited by many people stems from systemic problems that have nothing to do with race  and everything to do with socio-economic class. Countless social scientists have noted that social isolation leads to criminal activity simply because the denizens of these resource-dry areas gravitate toward associations and groups that provide monetary and social support. Often, these groups engage in illicit activity. Therefore, the best way to curb violence and other criminal activity is through enterprise and civic engagement. This requires community members and local business owners to not shun the kids who they see as “young thugs” but rather extend them opportunities for advancement.

I admit, that this is a formidable task and requires a lot of community members. However, when a child dies, get maimed, or a young person falls victim to the streets it affects entire the community as well.

Next Tuesday I will focus on political engagement. In the 2008 Presidential election black youth (18-24) voter turnout was 55%; an 8% increase from the previous election cycle and the highest increase among any demographic. While these numbers are heartening, it is important to find ways for young folks to get just as fired up about local elections and community engagement. 

Please feel free to have a conversation with me about this post or any other post via Twitter @edwardelliot