Seattle invests to prevent youth violence
The Seattle City Council and Mayor Greg Nickels are collaborating on the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative to stem what Councilmember Tim Burgess describes as an "epidemic of violence." Here he talks about how $8 million will be invested over the next two years to make Seattle youth safer.
Special to The Times
ALLEN Joplin was just 17 years old when a bullet ended his life. It happened 16 months ago, Jan. 3, 2008, at the edge of my Queen Anne neighborhood.
Other killings of teenagers in Seattle followed — De'Che Morrison, Perry Henderson, Pierre LaPoint, Quincy Coleman. All gunned down in the prime of life, victims of youth-on-youth violence. Seduced by the allure of a flashy gun culture and destroyed in the end by plain lead bullets.
These horrifying street killings captured our attention and led to a concerted effort by the city of Seattle to counter youth violence in our community. Beyond the deaths, there are other less-obvious casualties associated with this culture of violence. These include the psychological damage to kids in our schools who suffer the corrosive effects of intimidation and bullying. Subtle in elementary school, the threats become more overt by the time kids are in middle and high school.
The causes of this violent epidemic are many — inadequate parenting, absent fathers, failed institutions, disengaged neighbors, peer pressure and the stunning availability of cheap, illegal guns. These are the causes teenagers themselves have given me in their letters and personal visits.
When kids see no options, they lose any shred of hope. Put that together with lethal weapons and we get death on our streets, frightened kids, hopeless kids who have lost faith in their future.
The City Council soon will approve the Seattle Youth Violence Prevention Initiative, a plan first proposed by Mayor Greg Nickels last fall, refined over the past few months in collaboration with the council, and now ready for full implementation. Because it doesn't rely on government alone, but rather applies both city and community resources to the problem, the initiative stands a good chance of making a big difference.
The initiative invests nearly $8 million over the next two years in an array of specialized services — street outreach, counseling, mentoring, anger management, education, job training — aimed at approximately 800 young people who are now involved in the juvenile-justice system, are likely to become involved, or are frequently suspended from middle school for violent behavior. Three geographic areas of the city — central, southeast and southwest — will be the primary focus. The approach has set aggressive goals — it seeks to reduce both court referrals and school suspensions for violent behavior by 50 percent in one year.
Most important, the initiative recognizes that one of the most effective ways to prevent violence is for community members to engage directly with at-risk youth, to challenge norms tolerating violence, and to encourage young people to speak out when violence strikes.
This is an example of substantial collaboration between the council and Mayor Nickels, a level of cooperation that has occurred far too sporadically in recent years.
Thanks to this cooperation, the initiative now has sufficient operational and management detail. It includes a "continuum of response" — prevention, intervention, and enforcement — to address the complexities of youth violence. It takes advantage of "best practices" from other cities, including the crucial role played by police in both prevention and suppression efforts.
The initiative will proactively seek out young people who need intervention, then funnel them to providers from community organizations who will deliver appropriate services.
Accountability is a central focus. Quarterly reports and briefings will be provided to the council. Program elements that don't work will be stopped or modified.
Youth violence is very complicated, but it is also a challenge that must be undertaken. City government will play a key role, but the ultimate solution depends on adults — parents, neighbors, friends, pastors, social workers, counselors and police — surrounding these kids with support and consistently offering love and encouragement. Our children deserve it.Councilmember Tim Burgess is chair of the Seattle City Council's Public Safety, Human Services, and Education Committee.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
When vice president of Sub Pop Records Megan Jasper isn't running things at the office, she's working in her garden at her West Seattle home where she and her husband Brian spend time relaxing.