Enough Talk: Time for Adult Action on Youth Violence

Article excerpt

The Rev. Patrice Sheppard, the assistant pastor of the Living Word Church in far Southwest Washington, yesterday offered this little ditty: "Same song, second verse; a little louder and a whole lot worse."

We were engaged in an emotional conversation about youth violence or, more specifically, our frustrations about the rhetorical responses by adults to youth violence.

Like countless others, including yours truly, Mrs. Sheppard is tired of all the talking.

Mrs. Sheppard, her husband, the Rev. Eugene Sheppard, and members of the East of the River Clergy this week began a "Truce 2000" program in conjunction with the Metropolitan Police Department to involve youth 14 to 21 in crime-prevention and non-violence programs. The hands-on program is based on the commandment "Thou shall not kill."

In the dark days since two promising Woodrow Wilson High School students were gunned down after an altercation at a basketball game, D.C. residents have heard nothing but a playbook of political sound bites aimed at expressing outrage about the deaths of Natasha Marsh and Andre Wallace.

Even the president of the United States chimed in by using the 17-year-olds' deaths as a pitch for more gun control. In addition, a White House representative was dispatched with a personal letter read at a somber funeral service attended by 4,000 people, many of them barely old enough to get a driver's license.

Then it was suggested that perhaps the adults ought to stop talking and let the children speak. So a youth summit was held during school hours yesterday at the University of the District of Columbia.

But when will all this hand-wringing debate lead to tangible adult action that will save more children? What I heard the District's children say yesterday is no different from what I've heard them say before.

They need adults to stop abdicating their responsibility and act like adults. Pay attention to them not only with rhetoric in times of trouble, but also with real resources and real involvement that might thwart trouble before it starts.

Youth violence in the District, and across the United States, for that matter, is not a new problem, as Metropolitan Police Chief Charles H. Ramsey pointed out. In the past decade, thousands of D.C. youth have lost their lives to street violence.

However, the overriding misperception, also voiced by Chief Ramsey in his comments during a meeting this week with editors and reporters at The Washington Times, is that most of those victims somehow put themselves in harm's way.

I beg to differ. There have been countless Andres and Natashas. The vast majority of D.C. students are "good" kids trying to make their way in unsafe environments created by adults who are supposed to care for them.

Not surprising, many of the frustrated young speakers at yesterday's youth summit - which was broadcast live on radio station WOL-AM (1450) - expressed extreme sympathy for Andre and Natasha, but also wondered why there had not been such an outpouring of outrage when their friends, classmates and neighbors, who are equally important to them, met similar fates. …