WASHINGTON - A study by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says youth violence is the second leading cause of death for Americans between the ages of 10 and 24. Researchers suggests the violent behavior can start early in a child's life and continue into young adulthood. The problem is particularly widespread in urban, African-American communities.
From street corner fights to school yard assaults, violence among young African-Americans is on the rise. While youth violence has decreased nationally since 2004, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says black children represent an overwhelming majority of crime victims and crime perpetrators.
"I literally have seen my friends die. My friends got shot in front of me. I have held my friends while they die," said Tony Lewis Jr., who knows the tragic consequences of youth violence in Washington. He grew up on this crime-ridden neighborhood block known as Hanover Place. When he was just nine, his father was given a life prison sentence for his role in a large cocaine distribution network.
"In these type of [poor] neighborhoods a lot of people went towards crime because that is what poverty does, and when crime comes violence comes," he said.
Lewis says youth violence among African-Americans also stems from a lack of educational opportunities. He says there's a need for adult mentors to get young people to change their harmful behavior.
"I really try to get them to see how special they are and how being in the street or choosing a life of crime really negates all of their gifts," he said.
Elementary school principal J. Harrison Coleman has launched a program to examine the reasons why young people use violence to resolve conflicts.
"Children are becoming crueler and crueler to each other. They are fighting back rather than talking things out, rather than working together," he said.
"My grandmother said hit her back or she said she will beat me. I did hit her back but I didn't feel good about it," said one student.
"We want to give them other vehicles that they can follow to go back and say what needs to be said rather than hitting someone or hurting someone,” said Coleman.
Wilmer White's grandson Ricardo is in second grade. "It's important that we now as parents and grandparents start formatting a more positive role. Do things with your children. Do things with your grandchildren,” she said.
Teacher Diane Woods believes peer mediation programs can help.
"Have a central person, a friend maybe, who can help you de-escalate a situation because not all the time will an adult be present. Things can go on in the community, but you still need to learn how to communicate without using violence,” she said.
Back on the streets Tony Lewis is trying be a peacemaker.
The area around Hanover Place is now a safer environment than it was several decades ago. Community activists like Tony Lewis and others say they will continue their efforts to try to curb youth violence in the nation’s capital.