The Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Initiative

By Sarah Gustafson, 16, Immaculate Heart HS
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Have your parents ever grounded you for something your little sister did? Have you ever groaned while your principal barred everybody from a privilege because a single person abused it? In our homes and schools, we already suffer unfair penalties because of others’ actions.

And our country does the same—it threatens to take away your rights because of what a few teens did a thousand miles away. After the Columbine shootings, prominent politicians and media enthusiastically portrayed teens as dangerous and immoral. According to them, we needed more rules and more religion—locker searches, curfews, mandatory prayer sessions—to save us from being menaces to society.

But lawmakers and media play by a double standard: they don’t make a fuss when people their age commit the same kinds of crimes. Think about these cases:

• A foster care agency shuffled three-year-old Gilbreania Wallace from abusive home to abusive home—finally, a foster parent allegedly beat her to death.

• A mother deprived her six-year-old child of food and care, leaving her chained to a filthy bed for most of her life.

• Trying to get back at his ex-girlfriend, a man crashed his car into a local daycare center, killing several children and injuring many others.

Teen crime is dropping, adult crime is rising

Adults would find some pretty shocking figures on violence if they dared to look. According to Mike Males, an expert on society’s perceptions of youth, California teen felony cases have dropped 27 percent in the past five years, and teen violent crimes have dropped 2 percent. But adult crime has increased by 111 percent, Males reported in his book, Framing Youth: Ten Myths About the Next Generation.

Less than 150 children have died in school shootings in the past five years, according to the Justice Policy Institute, a project of the Center on Juvenile and Criminal Justice, based in Washington and San Francisco ( Meanwhile, 3,000 kids die each year at the hands of their parents, according to the Children’s Bureau of Southern California (

Instead of acknowledging the drop in youth crime, many politicians seem to think there is a rising tide of teen violence, one that can only can be stopped through tough, restrictive laws. On July 21, political, media, and entertainment figures united to proclaim in a Los Angeles Times column that Hollywood’s productions must be sanitized to prevent "the horrifying new crimes we see emerging among our young: schoolchildren gunning down teachers and fellow students en masse, killing sprees inspired by violent films, teenagers murdering their babies only to return to dance at the prom."

This is ludicrous! What about a link between child abuse and poverty, and youth gang involvement and violent crime? I guess they think that watching a gun-heavy movie like The Matrix will induce more kids to violence than an impoverished, neglectful or abusive household will. This Hollywood-is-evil proclamation may sound stupid, but it’s exactly the kind of attitude that can change the way you, me and our fellow teenagers live. This kind of generalization can lead to restrictions on our rights to freedom and justice.

Although politicians seem eager to give kids a bad rap, they remain strangely silent about the adult crime trends. Adults are the ones who have the most voting power so politicians stir up fears about youth crime. They can then try to give the adults a sense of security by getting tough on kids instead of confronting the looming problems of abuse and other violent adult crimes.

Last year, former Governor Pete Wilson backed a bill that would have sent more teenagers to adult courts, even though the juvenile justice system works better at keeping teens out of a life of crime. The bill failed, but Californians will vote on the Gang Violence and Juvenile Crime Initiative next March.

Midwestern politicians have actually passed laws creating curfews and allowing parents to "spank, switch or belt" their children, which is supposed to foster discipline and respect for authority. But these kinds of restrictions would make me feel more alienated from society, more misunderstood and unfairly treated by authority—more like how the Columbine killers felt. Even if you haven’t gotten into trouble with the law, this mentality affects you. People think the worst of you just because you’re a teenager. This could mean getting weird looks when you walk into a fancy store, or getting arrested because you’re in the wrong place at the wrong time.

By seizing on one or two gory stories, the media has ignored the facts. The reality is that teens are committing less crime. The really scary ones are the adults—the parents who harm their children, the media which play on everyone’s fears, whipping up emotions against teenagers, and the politicians who slap unfair restrictions on teens so that adults will re-elect them.