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Some US Cities Resort to New Programs to Curb Youth Violence

  • Chris Simkins

Murder rates have risen during the first half of the year in several US cities . Many of the homicide victims have been juveniles. Now city officials and police in some communities are fighting back with programs designed to steer young people away from a life of crime.

Newark, New Jersey, has seen a spike in homicides, robberies, drug dealing and gang activity. People in the community are upset - especially about the rising murder rate among young African-Americans.

"It just hurts when I see so much violence, especially when you are killing your brother, black on black crime," said community activist Reggie Miller.

Community activist Reggie Miller runs programs that offer positive social and emotional development skills for young black children. His goal is to convince them to stay out of trouble and finish college.

"I am trying to get them to just look at life critically and know that they need to [go] through education, through service and giving back that your life can take a greater turn from where you are right now," said Miller.

Dennis Rodriguez knows young people who have committed crimes but who want to change their lives.

"A lot of them understand that they have the talents and capabilities but a lot of them think that those talents and capabilities is not what it is ((they are)) supposed to be. A lot of them think they should use that talent and capabilities for something destructive rather than something constructive," said Rodriguez.

"We have the financial resources to put about 450 more [police officers] cops on the street," said Newark's mayor, Ras Baraka.

Baraka, is trying various ways to curb youth crime. He's put more police on street patrols, but with mixed results. As a former high school principal, he has also put more resources towards educational programs that target young people in some of the city's most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

"It is not just about pulling yourself up by your boot straps or just changing your mind and saying 'I want to do right'. It is having the right people and support around you that helps you pick the right path and have the courage and strength to stay on that path," he said.

The mayor's example has 19 year old Darnell Smith turning his life around.

"I want to be known for that guy right there [the mayor]. But he also took another step and became the next councilman and like Ras Baraka then mayor. Maybe that could be me some day you never know," said Smith.

Darrell Price is trying to help 16 to 24-year-old high school dropouts. He runs a program that gives them educational and job skills.

"The recidivism rate for young people who we have who have already committed crimes our recidivism rate is below five percent," said Price.

Seventeen-year-old Jasmine Barnett had no plans to finish high school - until she had a baby. Now that she's a parent, she's about to graduate and look for a job.

"It always takes that one person who could change you - and that one person was my son," said Barnett.

Community leaders want the city to fund more programs that will reduce youth violence and crime while putting young people here on a path to succeed in life.

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