How do we stop violence?
On Sunday night, community members gathered for a candlelight vigil in memory of Jerome Watkins.
Watkins was shot and killed March 28. He was just 18 years old — much too young for his life to end.
According to authorities, Watkins and the shooter, 24-year-old Terrance Marsh, had a history. Watkins had allegedly broken into the Marsh’s home and stolen some property. Police say that led to the shooting.
The case remains under investigation.
Regardless, the questions that beg for answers are why are our young people settling their differences with guns, and what can be done to stop it?
Many will offer answers to the first question. Music, movies and video games depicting violence will make the list, but the reality is that there are many factors and music, movies and video games are more convenient explanations that don’t require any action on our part.
According to the National Youth Violence Prevention Resource Center, researchers have identified some factors that increase children and teens’ risk for becoming involved in serious violence during the teenage years. For children under 13, the most important factors include: early involvement in serious criminal behavior, early substance use, being male, a history of physical aggression toward others, low parent education levels or poverty, and parent involvement in illegal activities.
Once a child becomes a teenager, different factors predict involvement in serious violence. Friends and peers are much more important for teens, and friendships with antisocial or delinquent peers, membership in a gang, and involvement in other criminal activity are the most important predictors of serious violence for teenagers.
On Sunday night, organizers of the vigil stressed that it’s time to save our youth — that we can’t afford to lose another.
Violence is a community problem and the community has to be concerned enough to stop it.
All of us have a role to play in keeping our community safe. Each person, each family, each neighborhood, each organization, each church, each business has to do what it can do.
What can one person do to help?
Serve as a mentor, tutor, or volunteer at schools to support the healthy development of our young people. Be a positive role model.
Provide meaningful and appropriate opportunities through businesses and social/civic groups for youth to develop their interests, skills, and talents.
Pay attention when youth behave well and help them see the benefits that come from their good choices.
Build a connection with young people that allows them to feel comfortable discussing violence and related concerns.
As a community we face a number of challenges ranging from illegal drugs, to high unemployment, to teen pregnancy. There are a number of very good organizations working to address these issues. But it takes more than good agencies.
It takes a community taking action.
The same goes for ending violence like the action that took Watkins’ life. The police can’t do it.
It must be the community. It’s time we step up.