At first, the May 5 meeting seemed like the same old gang summit where law enforcement rattle off the numbers of teens prosecuted for gang-related crimes and groups beg for funding. But a mother of four brought home the problem when she painted a vivid picture of gang activity at her children’s school and discussed the lengths she took to save their lives.
“Every day after school, I rush to transport four loads of students from Coolidge Senior High School to their homes to keep them from being jumped by a gang that positions itself in front of the school and bus stops,” said Darice Stevens, 34, mother of four. “Their safety shouldn’t be my responsibility alone.”
Police officials indicate there are 90 active crews in the city. Stevens described a dilemma many students face at schools across the District. “Police officers are stationed on school property while the gang members in school uniforms prey on innocent people and instigate fights with other neighborhood crews in surrounding areas,” said Stevens.
Ron Moten, 41, cofounder of Peacoholics and moderator for the summit, said there has been a significant increase in gang violence since last year. Since January, there have been 70 conflicts between rival gangs which is a drastic increase from the 41 incidents that occurred in the same period last year.
“This is the result of the new administration cutting off funding to community-based organizations that provided the services to monitor and resolve disputes among these gangs,” said Moten. “This could be a horrific summer with cuts in services for our youth.”
U.S. Attorney Ron Machen Jr. told the gathering that 65 youth were prosecuted last year as adults involved in gang activities. Some received as much as 150 years imprisonment. “These youth are just as intelligent as some of the CEO’s for Fortune 500 companies. But they made the wrong decisions. We need to give our youth the support systems early on to stay out of trouble,” said Machen.
Brian McEwen, 42, founder of Crossing the Lines, a community-based organization that targets youth involved in violence and their parents, agreed with Moten. “This summer will be chaotic because thousands of young people will have nothing to do but hang on the corner. Many have become aggravated with new rich, White residents moving into the neighborhoods and thousands of jobs going to the Latinos,” McEwen said. “The youth are angry, frustrated, getting high and breaking into businesses. Give them a chance for employment opportunities or to create their own businesses.”
Longtime parental involvement advocate Jenise Patterson, 59, director of Parent Watch Inc. ,said gangs do not grow or operate in a vacuum. “Look at the family profile, the conditions of where they live, educational experiences and close ties. What we are finding out is that youth take to the streets when there are family issues that need to be corrected or addressed,” said Patterson. “If we would invest in building relationships with organizations that want to heal the family then we can raise the child.”
Del McFadden, 38, youth outreach coordinator for the Columbia Heights – Shaw Family Support Collaborative, agreed with Patterson and said that if city officials are serious about stopping youth violence, it must invest in preventive measures.
“Prevention is just as important as intervention. Let’s look at the total picture which includes the family, employment opportunities, mental health issues, and the reasons why our youth drop out of school which leads to forming gangs and violent behavior,” McFadden said.
Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), who convened the summit, said she will find funds to help. “Nothing has moved me like these roundtable hearings about youth and the plight of Black males in D.C. I heard your heart wrenching testimonies. Now it’s time for me to act.”