FIVE WEEKS ago today, Jevon Washington, on his way home from
the local grocery, was murdered. Two shots - one in the chest, one
in the back. Dead . . . at the age of 15.
"I just don't understand why,' says his mother, Patricia
She's not the only one with questions. Why was Dawan Parker,
21, fatally shot March 31 as he and a friend walked down a
Why was Valeniece Stark, 16, fatally shot Jan. 25 after
stepping outside to take a homework break?
Why was Guyton Wagner, 20, fatally stabbed Feb. 26 during a
Why was Beacher "Terry" Buchanan Jr., 17, fatally shot in a
drive-by shooting Jan. 17?
Why will some teen-ager or young adult likely murder another
Despite the effectiveness of the city's Violent Crime Task
Force and a drop from 1995 in the metropolitan area's homicide
rate, it's violence as usual this year for some neighborhoods. And
about half of this violence involves young people.
During the first 110 days of 1996, of the 50 recorded killings
in the city of St. Louis, more than half the victims were
teen-agers or young adults. Of the 205 city victims in 1995, 46
percent were under 25; of the 42 victims in St. Louis County, 48
percent were under 25.
Although the 1991 movie "Boyz N the Hood" provided mainstream
America with insight to life in violent neighborhoods, it did
little in answering the question: Why?
Five years later, criminologists and psychiatrists have begun
to develop theories as they delve deeper into boys and their 'hoods
- their childhoods, that is.
In addition to genetic influences, scientists believe,
environmental influences in early childhood can predict whether a
youngster will grow up programmed for violent behavior. The lack of
quality "attachment figures" - people who consistently provide care
during the first two years of a child's life - may be the closest
answer to the complicated and controversial question.
"There seems to be an important association between early
relationships and the development of aggression," says Dr. John
Constantino, a child psychiatrist and pediatrician at St. Louis
In a study to be published in a summer edition of the Journal
of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Constantino's research
suggests that the quality of children's attachment relationships
can be predicted by their parents' early-childhood relationships.
"It's a cycle," Constantino said. "It's called the
intergenerational transmission of attachment. What I'm trying to do
is see whether the intergenerational transmission of violence -
which we know is a phenomenon - is related to the intergenerational
transmission of attachment. I think it is."
If true, "it may be possible to take children at risk and see
to it somehow that they have, in the course of their early lives,
one secure relationship with somebody," Constantino said.
The cost of government-funded child care in this preventive
approach to violent behavior, theoretically, could pay for itself
with the reduction in property damage, fires, court costs and other
expenses associated with delinquency.
But even if all of America's so-called "at-risk" babies and
toddlers began receiving today the best parental and professional
day-care available, the violence would continue among older
children. Once aggressive behavior is established, criminologists
say, it is notorious for resisting change. …