Four-and-a-half years after the shootings at Columbine High School, violence still plagues young people nationwide. In response to a series of shootings between New Haven teenagers this summer, Empower New Haven hosted a peace summit Friday at James Hillhouse High School to address the problem of youth violence.
About 300 students from New Haven public schools attended the summit, which featured panel discussions among public officials and community leaders.
“It’s not just gang violence, it’s not just black-on-black violence. It’s domestic violence, it’s institutional violence, it’s police brutality,” Jeff Johnson, an Empower New Haven consultant and the event’s moderator, said.
Johnson stressed that the community could reach a solution only with active participation from students.
“To keep this community safe and healthy, we need your help, your ideas, your time, your support,” New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr. told students. “So participate, engage and expect us to listen.”
The day was nevertheless devoted largely to panelists, who discussed the problem of youth violence and suggested solutions. Chief of Police Francisco Ortiz said community members can reduce violence by treating others with respect.
“Young people caught up in violence are people struggling for identity,” Ortiz said. “Someone hasn’t put value on who they are.”
Kevin Walton, a youth and community organizer, said students with self-confidence and ambition are less likely to engage in violence.
“It’s about developing self-esteem; use athletics, the arts to better yourself,” Walton, who coaches girls’ basketball at Career High School, said. “Think about things you want to do in your future and establish goals for yourself.”
The summit also dealt with the issue of relationship violence. Tracey Parks, who works at Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven, said the best way to prevent domestic violence is through education and awareness.
“Does [your partner] tell you what to do, where to go, who to hang out with?” she said. “Just because you’re not being pushed and shoved doesn’t mean you’re not in an abusive relationship.”
Karen DuBois-Walton ’89, the city’s chief administrative officer, identified two causes of youth violence: economic strain and boredom. If a student cannot find a job, DuBois said, he or she might work “on the other side of the law” to make quick cash. Bored students might engage in violence for lack of a better activity. She suggested that an increase in the number of part-time jobs and after-school activities available to high school students could help reduce youth violence.
Jazmine Stroughton, a junior at Career High School who is involved with the Yale Women’s Magazine, agreed that the time she devotes to her extracurricular activities helps to keep her focused.
“If I were just hanging out on the street corner, I’d get into trouble,” Stroughton said. “[By staying active], kids who would end up in jail in three years end up in college.”
Martin Evans, a senior at Career High School and president of the Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners — a group that makes recommendations to the police commissioner — further stressed the importance of keeping students busy. He suggested that schools remain open until 6 p.m. instead of closing at 4 p.m., so that students can stay and play music or converse with friends.
“If we know they’re in school and involved in programs, they’re okay,” Evans said.