Before you begin to read this I would like to say that the content within the following paper is the result of research that I have done specifically for this paper, as well as books that I have read in the past, including There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz. I have also incorporated the knowledge of numerous speakers that we have had in class. However, as well as these sources I have included my own personal opinion throughout the proceeding paper, as I feel as though I am entitled to especially when discussing such a widespread problem that seems as though is far from being alleviated.
Since I find myself most interested and concerned with the problems of children in our country I have decided to focus on one area densely populated by children who suffer from numerous disadvantages. The modern day ghetto is rampant with violent crime, gang activity, and death. From 1985 to 1993 the amount of children who died as a result of violent death got ten percent worse. Rather than believe otherís opinions as to why this is true I have decided to investigate the situation myself. Rather than just blaming the individuals within the affected areas I would like to expose the reason behind the behavior so as to find where the real fault lies and what the solution is.
ìLos Angeles is a city where fear of crime and criminals is arguably the single most important social and political issue for the majority of citizensî (Zimring Hawkins 46). In other words in Los Angeles there is so much crime and violence that it is the primary concern for the citizens of the area, according to numerous sources it is safe to say this of many urban areas of low socio-economic status. South Central Los Angeles as well as many other ghettos have such widespread gang activity. Gang activity has essentially taken over the normal way of life. Innocent people are no longer safe in their neighborhood. With gang members as young as ten years old, many people wonder, what makes children so violent and deviant at such a young age? Where do people like Kody Scott, an LA gang member notorious for his extreme violence and brutality, come from? Is he to blame? Are his parents to blame? Are these type of people born with violent minds, do they watch too much violent television, are they influenced by violent friends?? It seems as though the answer to this question could be one of a million different possibilities.
However, after all the research and reading that I have done regarding this issue I feel as though violent children of the ghetto are not ìbadî at all, but a product of their bad neighborhood. The difference between these two explanations is: A. where the blame lies and B. what are the solutions. It is not only frustrating to me to hear someone blame the individuals for their deviant behavior but it accomplishes nothing. If it is in fact the individuals fault then there is no solution, after all no police force can arrest every gang member in LA not to mention the rest of the U.S.. There must be another way to solve this problem and in finding this alternative/better solution one must find the real cause.
Allow me to identify what I think are the real causes of childrenís deviance and violence. Primarily, it lies within the declining of family structure, especially within the ghetto where single motherhood and teenage pregnancy is rampant. Kids often join gangs to replace their incomplete family. The teen birth rate got 23 percent worse form 1985 to 1993 and continues to be a serious problem. It seems as though the two parent family is a thing of the past, an idealistic structure which is no longer realistic to many people. However, this trend needs to be reversed in order to correct the problem with todays youth. Family planning programs need to be available for areas where families are frequently broken. Parents play a huge role in the lives and activities of their children. More often than not children who commit acts of violence and crime come from a family with one parent and suffer from parental neglect. Frequently when a child comes from a neglectful family the gang provides them with a greater sense of belonging than their family does. Often by the time children are old enough to be involved in gang activity it is too late to influence them positively. This is why parents play such a huge role in the behavior of children. When children are neglected someone else is forced to play this, example setting role, and it may often be a negative role model such as gangs. Money needs to be allocated to communities with these problems. The money needs to be spent on programs that teach children at a very young age, the seriousness of teenage pregnancy. Also, programs need to be set up for people who are already parents, the program should be a learning resource for these parents to become better role models. ìSince the parents of these youths are not providing them with adequate supervision they are often with their friends on the streets, allowing themselves to be at conflict with the policeî (Lo 38). The juvenile violent crime arrest rate got 66 percent worse from 1985 to 1993. Unfortunately the ghetto becomes a cycle for violence and crime. Once this negative environment is established it continues to prey on youth in the area, who are constantly being introduced, turning them into part of the problem. Once again the problem is that often the parents of these children were also victims of the ghetto, and know of no alternative to this style of life. Furthermore, after reading Alex Kotlowitzís There Are No Children Here I would have to identify the police force as part of the problem, not the solution. Frequently, cops commit unnecessary acts of violence. The entire country became aware of this problem when the Rodney King video was released depicting the brutality of the LAPD. Due to these acts of unwarranted brutality the ghetto only becomes more deviant, and often crime is specifically directed towards the police. For example in Kotlowitzís story a young child from the ghettoís of Chicago was the target of unnecessary police force, this only added to his fear and hatred of police. In order for this problem to be alleviated the police force that patrols these ghetto areas must be educated on how to deal with the members of these communities, especially the children since they have not yet developed a strong negative opinion of the cops. The Prince Georgeís County officer that came to our colloquium seemed to be very knowledgeable on gang activity, this is the type of officer that should be assigned to problematic gang areas. I feel as though when the right officers are assigned to the right areas the children as well as the adults will have a greater respect for the law. I think this is another solution to the problem at hand. Again, it seems that the solution lies within the education of a certain group of people, this time its the police force.
I hope that I have portrayed some of the reasons why children within areas of low socio-economic status act the way they do. Hopefully taking some of the blame off the individuals themselves, and placing it on the rest of society who is responsible for educating these people as well as the government for not providing the necessary funding for programs. After extensive research I feel as though I am more aware of the reasons why children are victims of many hardships, as well as the solutions to these problems.
This paper was prepared in 1997 for a colloquium facilitated by Stephen Wright, instructor for the Advocates for Children program, part of the College Park Scholars community at the University of Maryland, College Park.