Oct 08 2012

Youth Violence & the “War on Drugs”

A few weeks ago, the Federal Interagency Forum on Child and Family Statistics released its annual “America’s Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Beingreport. I always look forward to reading the report because it usually challenges the popular conceptions (especially those advanced by the media) that our children and youth are all in deep trouble. Nothing could actually be further from the truth. In fact, these reports usually paint a portrait of a resilient group of people who are thriving IN SPITE of adult malpractice. Despite the fact that more children and youth are living in poverty, less teens are having babies and less of them are committing violent crimes. One might not know this if you simply relied on the mass media to learn about how youth are faring in our society.

Below is a chart that I think can’t be published enough. It highlights the fact that since around 1993, the percentage of serious violent crimes that involved youth has been steadily declining from a high of 26 percent in 1993 to 18 percent in 2010. In other words, the vast majority of the people in this country who commit serious violent crimes in the U.S. are adults.

SOURCE: Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey and Federal Bureau of Investigation, Uniform Crime Reporting Program, Supplementary Homicide Reports.

Given the reality that youth are not the ones primarily committing serious violent crimes and that the percentage of those who do has been steadily declining, one might wonder how it is that the level of youth criminalization in our society has increased so much.

In order to understand the phenomenon of increased youth criminalization in the U.S., we have to focus on the so-called “War on Drugs.” The effects of this misguided and wrong-headed policy cannot be overstated. The War on Drugs has devastated communities of color, leaving children behind to fend for themselves. The concept of “zero tolerance” also emerged from the drug war and has been imported into our school discipline policies leading to the excessive suspensions and expulsions of millions of youth.

A new film by Eugene Jarecki titled “The House I Live In” has just been released to expose the detrimental effects of the so-called “War on Drugs.” In it, writer David Simon characterizes the War as a “slow moving Holocaust.” I don’t think that he is being hyperbolic. Below is a trailer from the new documentary. Check your local listings to see when and where it is showing in your community and please support this film:

A few weeks ago, I read an incredibly moving eulogy penned by David Simon. The eulogy was in honor of a young man named DeAndre McCullough who was a central protagonist in his book “The Corner” and had a role in the Wire. He opens with these beautiful words:

At fifteen, he was selling drugs on the corners of Fayette Street, but that doesn’t begin to explain who he was. For the boys of Franklin Square — too many of them at any rate — slinging was little more than an adolescent adventure, an inevitable rite of passage. And whatever sinister vision you might conjure of a street corner drug trafficker, try to remember that a fifteen-year-old slinger is, well, fifteen years old.

Unfortunately, DeAndre struggled with addiction throughout his life and he died a violent death. When I read his eulogy, I cried. I cried for several minutes because I recognize DeAndre. So many of the young people who I have worked with and continue to support are selling dope to make a living. Some end up getting hooked on it because they are looking for a way to escape the brutality of their circumstances. In the end, for me, youth violence is the unrelenting poverty that so many children experience day to day. Youth violence is law enforcement kicking down doors of housing projects looking for “drug dealers.” Youth violence is the State asking for 5 year sentences for small amounts of drugs. Youth violence is the “slow moving Holocaust” that has been engendered because of the immoral and detrimental “War on Drugs.”

Note: If you are in Chicago on October 10th, there will be a special FREE screening of the House I Live In. Details are below:

Chatham Ice Theaters
210 West 87th Street

6:00 pm Reception
6:45 pm Screening
8:30 pm Forum
Director Eugene Jarecki will be in attendance.
Please RSVP at 773.548.6675 for this Free Showing