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Fenger students

Melissa Tussing/MEDILL

Fenger sophomores  (from left) Terry Johnson, Sir Bratton, Damien Coleman, Alfonzo Johnson (above) and freshman Rodrick Johnson sit outside the school Wednesday afternoon. The students said after-school programs and jobs would have more impact than stricter policing in schools in ending violence.

Experts, students, advocates all say plan to stem youth violence a good starting point

by Melissa Tussing
Oct 08, 2009

President Obama’s plan to combat youth violence in Chicago, at least one expert says, is a bit unclear.
Jens Ludwig, co-director of the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab, says at this point elements of the plan are vague.

“It’s a little bit hard to tell exactly what the full range of activities will be that result from [Wednesday’s] meeting,” Ludwig said. “If today’s meeting generates an increase for federal assistance to local law enforcement and schools, though, then that’s a positive development.”

On Wednesday, top officials in the Obama administration – Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Attorney General Eric Holder – were in Chicago with Mayor Richard Daley to outline a general plan to address youth violence.

The plan includes more after-school, Saturday and mentoring programs, $500,000 for Chicago’s COPS Secure Our Schools and $24 million set aside for community-based crime prevention programs.

But how much of the $24 million will be set aside for Chicago – or how that money would be allocated to specific community organizations – was not clarified.

One community advocate, Black Star Project Director Phillip Jackson, said none of the 30 community organizations he represents have been contacted by Holder or Duncan.

“To contact one or two organizations and say you reached out to the community is not adequate,” Jackson said.

The University of Chicago’s Ludwig takes issue with the $500,000 headed to Chicago’s COPS program. “The dollar amounts seem very, very small,” Ludwig said.

He said much more money is needed for more police to be posted in school neighborhoods. Having a police presence when students head home is critical for their safety, Ludwig said.

“When you talk to principals, the after-school period is a really big risk period for kids,” Ludwig said, “because everyone knows where you are at 2:10 when the bell rings.”

Because of that security risk, after-school programs will work only if students feel safe enough to stay after school, he said.

The programs also have to be something the students want to do, said Fenger sophomore Sir Bratton.

Another sophomore at Fenger, Damien Coleman, agreed.

“If you had a boxing club, there will be more teen boys in this school than out of it,” Coleman said. Classmate Pierre Davis said after-school jobs would mean every student would leave straight from school.

Fenger students and Rosita Jackson, a member of the Caucus of Rank and File Educators, said that however the plan plays out, jobs and encouragement are more important than strict policing and punishment.

“We need to stop targeting bad children,” Jackson said. “All children want to be good. We need to show them how. We need to show them love ... if we’re violent with them, they’re going to be violent with us.”