Tuesday, June 26, 2007

New Haven mayor wants to 'engage' young criminals

So far, seven people have been murdered in New Haven this year, quite a few more people simply wounded, in seemingly random gun violence.

In many of the cases the people firing the guns are kids.

The latest arrest, a 16-year-old who worked in conjunction with a 17-year-old to murder a family man by shooting him in the back after he refused to comply with a street robbery, has brought Mayor John DeStefano Jr. to again say his administration is trying to "engage" these kids so they'll stop shooting people.

But the city seems to want to shift responsibility from the criminals to society. The focus of any administration comment about the apparent trend seems to be how to understand why kids with guns run rampant around New Haven -- is it poverty, is it too much free time -- but, really, all New Haven seems to be doing is talking about why a problem exists without actually stopping the symptoms as well.

I'm a big-picture guy, I understand the concept of eliminating the source; at the same time, you have to ask if you can get rid of the hive without at some point having to deal with the bees.

The city has already spent millions to create state-of-the-art schools in New Haven, and countless time and dollars to create programs to give city kids activities to occupy their free time, including an annual push to create summer jobs.

And that's nice - but this was the second teenager arrested, accused of murder in the city, in a couple of months. In the other arrest, that teen, too, is accused of shooting a responsible, working man to death because the man would not comply with a street robbery.

In both cases, someone died for having a gold necklace. In one case, police allege, the teenage shooter killed a man for a gold chain because another kid told him that if he did it he could keep the gun.

That's nice.

While the mayor and the city rebuild the schools, implement after-school and summer programs and create job opportunities -- taking massive amounts of money from the city and the state to do it -- too many kids in New Haven are still walking around aimlessly, killing people for nothing more than trinkets they could have very well bought themselves if they were working instead of roaming the streets.

Read the paper and pay attention to how much is actually available to all the kids in New Haven. ... Opportunity, resources, aid ... about the same as any of the suburbs, really, and a heck of a lot more than in my late 70s/early 80s suburban upbringing.

Even with just as many opportunities open to them as many of their suburban counterparts, too many kids are choosing -- choosing -- to be dangerous burdens on the rest of us.

Come on - I, and likely many of you, grew up in schools without computers, cafeterias, air conditioning or music labs, with little or no field trips, cultural days or extra-curricular activities.

Did you commit crime?

OK, so I did, a little, a couple of stupid things, but it was nothing. Just adolescent boy stuff - playing with fire, stealing street signs, just loitering in general - but not actual criminal activity.

Plus, be realistic - If a kid can find a gun, and bullets, and then commit crimes, he/she could just as easily have worked for money, or taken part in any of the other productive activity the city provides.

Boredom should not be an excuse for bad behavior.

And poverty is no excuse for acting like an animal, especially when the city makes sure that everyone has access to food, clothing, shelter and health clinics, so it's not even like it's that bad in and of itself.

I contend that it's the behavior of the people in any system that dictates the quality of the system.

If 100 people all lived in a field and had nothing but dirt, there are still several things they could do beside rob and kill each other.

If you create opportunities but people refuse to take those opportunities, who is to blame? If these kids are making the choice to be little criminals, little thieves and murderers, maybe it's not that society has failed them, but that they have failed society.

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