Mar 06, 2012 Amanda Seef Uncategorized
Gun shots rang out on Furman Street late last month, leaving a teenager, not even old enough to drive, critically injured.
The mid-day shooting was the latest in a spate of violent criminal activity involving teenagers, a problem Syracuse Police say is growing.
“We’ve seen more and more involvement by youths,” Sgt. Tom Connellan said. “This is a trend, not just in Syracuse, with younger kids being involved in gangs.”
The police department hasn’t made an arrest in that case, which also brought minor injuries to a 17-year-old, but say it has the “earmarkings” of a gang-related case. Gangs, Connellan said, are responsible for a large amount of the violence in the city.
“We are, on a regular basis, catching juveniles with weapons,” he said. Teens are often recruited to the gangs because of the prosecuting laws — organized crime is prosecutable by the federal government, unless the individual involved is under the age of 18.
“A lot of these gangs recruit younger kids to be a part of the gang and use them to commit some of the crime because they know the punishments will be lesser for juveniles,” Connellan said. “These kids are trying to make a means for themselves, they get recruited to do a lot of this stuff. Older kids know the consequences are less for juveniles.”
Getting involved in the gangs has a lot to do with the family life at home, and sometimes, the lack of a family life.
Everybody wants to belong somewhere and if you don’t have that family structure, you’re going to look for it somewhere else. The gang becomes their family.
— Sgt. Tom Connellan
“A lot of kids nowadays are being raised not just by parents, but by their grandparents, because the parents are in jail or not around,” Connellan said. “Unfortunately, the grandparents are older and they’ve been through this already. The kids are out at all hours and sometimes the grandparents are having a hard time controlling them. Everybody wants to belong somewhere and if you don’t have that family structure, you’re going to look for it somewhere else. The gang becomes their family.”
Local organizations are hoping their mission will speak to these teens. They’ve opened their doors to the teens’ families in their crucial years with the goal of keeping the kids with their parents, not parole officers.
Boys and Girls Club
With eight locations spread in strategic locations in the city, the Boys and Girls Clubs are working to provide safe havens from outside pressures. “When I think about the Boys and Girls Clubs in Syracuse, they’re often located in the city where they’re most needed because the children there have a variety of challenges,” said Roxanne Hill, director of clubs. The clubs focus on key areas, such as education, life skills and recreation. Providing a place for teens to go, so that they feel safe and can escape pressures on the streets, is a key goal, Hill said. “If I don’t have positive things to do, I’m left to do negative things,” Hill said. “Teens are left to their own devices, they have to figure out what to do. A teen, unsupervised, may ask, ‘What’s out on the streets?’” The clubs opens their doors to teens from 6 to 9 p.m. nightly, providing a number of services for the kids. The teen programs focus on the issues affecting that crowd, anything from violence and substance abuse, and incorporate a large educational component and career studies. Discussions among the teens help the adult mentors figure out what’s going on at home, in school, and on the streets. “Anytime you have a young person in front of you, that’s an opportunity to teach,” Hill said.
Southwest Community Center
Violence surrounding the Community Center on the southside has decreased in recent years, said Valerie Hill, the center’s director of community services. That’s been done through providing education and a safe place to go, she said. “Violence in this area, on the southside, has reduced a whole lot because of the enrichment activities,” she said. “We want them to have a safe zone. Inside this building, they’re safe.” The center requires its staff to do outreach activities, helping teens where they already are. That sense of volunteerism pushes past the center, as teens come back to help after they’ve graduated high school or returned from correctional facilities. “Once we plant that seed, they come back and invest their time,” Hill said. The center also helps stop crime in its tracks, helping push for prevention, rather than redemption. “
We need to teach our kids that life is the greatest and grand, without the use of or selling drugs, or gun violence. — Valerie Hill
We need to teach our kids that life is the greatest and grand, without the use of or selling drugs, or gun violence,” she said. “If you can get to a young person before they go out and want to buy or sell drugs, or get a gun, that’s the key to a successful life.” The center offers Team ANGELS — avoiding negative garbage living and enjoying life — to help 13 to 16 year olds. Those years, Hill said, are when kids become most interested in guns and drugs. The center invites kids who may have already been arrested, have been involved in gangs or may be at a high risk of arrest to come in everyday in the evening hours. The teenagers participate in discussions and debates, among other programming. “Most days are successful,” Hill said. “Some days, there’s a dispute. It’s quads against quads, and they’re territorial, but we invite all kids in. They can explore things they haven’t been exposed to before.” The center provides a number of other services for targeted groups, as well. It has an HIV counseling area, where teens can be tested and get help, which also provides condoms for sexually-active teens. There are a number of programs designed to bring the family in, working for goals involving the entire family. Hill, who has been at the center for about two years, says she has remained involved in the center and the community because of her love for children and helping children grow. “We don’t always have the answers but we have a whole lot of love,” she said.
Mary Nelson Youth Center Stopping violence isn’t an easy job, said Mary Nelson, director of the youth center on South Salina Street. “The mayor can’t do it herself, the chief of police can’t do it himself,” she said. “We have to pull together and do things in our community.” Her annual Youth Day Barbecue brings thousands of area kids to the youth center as an effort to reduce violence in the neighborhood. Each year she treats children and their families to a barbecue and back-to-school supplies. She started the event after she lost her nephew, Darryl Patterson, to gun violence in 2002. “When I was younger, we had rec nights,” she said. “Everyday after school, we could go to some safe place. I wish more doors were open in our community for kids to go, to seek out help. It’s about to get warm, and you know when it gets warm, they start hanging out.” Nelson’s youth center is run by volunteers, focusing on education and violence intervention, among other programs for teens and youths. She’s also in the process of starting a youth talk show called “Rise Up” that will run on Saturdays on Power 1620 AM from 1 to 2 p.m. The show will focus on key areas, like education, career services, violence and drugs, and have teens talk about these issues and how they’re affecting lives. The teens will also discuss how adults can help to make things better for the community. “I think it all starts from home, and it we start paying attention to what our kids are doing, we could stop a lot of this stuff,” she said. “We’re not paying attention to who our kids are being with.”
A third of all new admissions to the state correctional facilities, about 20,000 a year, are parolees, said James Quick, criminal justice coordinator in the District Attorney’s Office.
The re-entry task force is a state initiative to assist parolees in transitioning back to life on the other side of the bars.
“Everyone is different, they’re all individuals,” said Quick. “Some are ready to change.The younger people, it’s just very hard. They’re still in that culture and it’s just hard for them to make that transition. Some will not age out of it. Others, they realize they want to change. They’re tired of it. They’re tired of the prison system, tired of the lifestyle that leads to incarceration. But they need help.”
The program helps on a number of levels, Quick said. Anger management classes are often taught for those who may have been involved in violent offenses. Domestic violence parolees take programs through Vera House. The needs of parolees are addressed, from housing to employment and helping change the behaviors that lead to criminal activity.
“A lot of the issues that drive people into criminal behavior have to be addressed on a different level,” he said. “Hopefully our communities will address some of these issues.”