Terminating Teenage Violent Crime

Posted: Apr 15, 2008 12:01 AM

Who wasn't disgusted this past week by the senseless beating of a Florida teenage girl by six other teenage girls? Or disgusted by a polygamist compound's mistreatment of young girls in western Texas? And dismayed by the Baltimore teacher who was knocked to the ground and beaten by a student while a fellow classmate videotaped the episode on her cell phone and others cheered?

Just as I was turning away (again) in disgust from America's awry juvenile daily news, I found myself a constituent of it, when two New Jersey teens were arrested after a teacher found a hit list that contained my name. When I first read the report, my instinct was to say nothing. I didn't want to risk exacerbating the situation. As the story spread nationally then internationally, however, I quickly realized silence was not the best course of action. This type of behavior is exactly the warning sign we have trivialized or ignored for far too long, emanating from a growing at-risk population of young people in this country.

The Columbine High School shooting still stands as a prime example of at-risk youth making a statement in a devastating way. More recent evidence poured out from the Savannah Morning News, which reported, "A 2007 analysis by the (Georgia) state Department of Public Safety showed a 171 percent increase in the arrests of juveniles for violent crimes since 1976, along with a 104 percent increase for robberies and 224 percent for aggravated assault." And we all know too well about school shootings. I've counted at least 14 different murderous gun sprees at colleges or universities just since 2000, resulting in at least 60 fatalities and dozens more being wounded.

I remember when I was in high school in the 1950s. There were gangs and racial injustice even then, however I never could have imagined the moral and civil anarchy among our youth today. So many have weapons and vehemently assault peers and adults. Why is this happening? It's either because the youths know they can get away with it or they just don't care! We have turned into a society of permissiveness and apathy.

Young people know teachers have no real authority over them and no support from their administrations. If a teacher tries to instill discipline in the classroom, it is disregarded by the students because they know the teacher cannot enforce it. A great example is the teacher in Baltimore who tried to get the student to sit down in class. And what happened when she did? She was beaten up! Until students know they cannot get away with this kind of behavior, classrooms will continue to grow more out of control.

The timing couldn't be better for the countrywide recognition of National Crime Victims' Rights Week (April 13-19). The program was established in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan to support victims of violent crimes. Contact your Chamber of Commerce to see how your community is commemorating this event.

Like with most social ills, however, the key to curbing crime is not more government spending and involvement. When will we learn "they" are not the answer? We are!

In today's world, each American must be vigilant against crime. We must have a zero tolerance for our volatility to violence. We must crack down and quit condoning cruel behavior. We also must be willing to reach out to those lost souls who feel marginalized and disenfranchised by the world around them, including those New Jersey students who included me on their hit list. My hope is that, should there be substance to these charges, we will not distance ourselves from these young men, but embrace them and give them the help they need to get on the right path.

Investing in youth is what we have been doing for more than a decade with my KICK START program (www.kick-start.org), which began in Houston by teaching martial arts to 150 at-risk children as part of the physical education curriculum. Since that time, our program, which instills discipline and respect and raises self-esteem, has grown to serve more than 6,000 youngsters year round at 37 schools in Dallas and Houston. To date, KICK START has graduated more than 50,000 students, with many going on to college and becoming successful in their own right.

I conclude by challenging all of us to be like my good friend Darrell Scott after his 17-year-old daughter, Rachel, became the first of 13 people killed at the Columbine High School shooting April 20, 1999, by two fellow students. Instead of sinking into a deep hopeless despair, Darrell formed "Rachel's Challenge," which focuses on helping students recognize their purposes in life. I would encourage you to check out their Web site at www.rachelschallenge.com. Darrell believes as strongly as I do in those great words from Edmund Burke, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing."

Darrel wrote a poem that perfectly describes the problems we face and provides the answer for those courageous enough to believe:

"Your laws ignore our deepest needs
Your words are empty air
You've stripped our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question, 'Why?'
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed,
And you fail to understand
That God is what we need!"