By Elizabeth Del Cid, 16, North Hollywood HS
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Elizabeth is ashamed when she sees what today's youth have become.

A while ago, I took the time to sit down and read the newspaper. Several headlines caught my attention: Mahony Against Prop. 21; Latino Boy Put on Trial for Robbing a Liquor Store; North Hollywood is Home to Yet Another Drive-by Shooting. I was reminded of how destructive today’s adolescents are, and I was ashamed.

I am a youth who is troubled by the mistakes of others. And you, too, are that youth—we are all labeled according to ethnicity, demeanor and environment. And we are all affected when somebody commits a crime.

I hear people say that youth criminals can’t help it. They call for better schools instead of more crime prevention. I see minority activists supporting the juvenile offender for doing wrong, and arguing that ethnic studies and bilingual classes in the school curriculum will bring juvenile crime down. That doesn’t make sense. How can education prevent crime since juvenile offenders hardly ever attend school, listen to what their elders have to say or follow the rules?

Minorities are not all criminals

People think that minorities are mostly poor, that we are all criminals and we don’t get along with whites. I am of Mexican descent, I’m well to-do and I get along fine with my white neighbors. I have yet to be stopped by a cop while cruising, questioned while taking a walk—and I certainly don’t have a criminal record. I am no threat to society. So why the stereotypes of minorities that I read about day in and day out?

These stereotypes make it appear that minorities will more often than not take part in criminal activity. However, as a minority, I have yet to live up to this expectation and wonder why other minorities find it necessary to live up to this assumption.

I admit my family infrastructure is better than others. I grew up in a close-knit family with two parents and two older siblings. High morals and ethics that have guided me. These circumstances have helped me make the right decisions. But even if I were not as fortunate, I would accept responsibility for my actions and make the right decisions.

I attended a middle school where whites were the majority in the honors program I was in. There were only two Latinos, one African American and about 20 whites in each of my classes. I still did not have a problem. I never felt discriminated against, feared or isolated.

Illustration by Matt Jones, 16, Los Angeles Center for Enriched Studies

People who oppose toughening the juvenile justice system have a lot of nerve to make such outrageous demands when they are the ones who have failed to follow the law—the law of order—and that’s wrong! Defending juvenile offenders has no place in society and is improper. Not to mention, the majority of individuals fighting against Proposition 21 are the ones participating in illegal activity, affiliating with gangs and slacking off in school. To me, the demands appear to be mere excuses that encourage teen violence.

I agree that the world would be a better place if the United States could meet everyone’s demands; that way, everyone would be happy. But the truth is that everyone cannot be given a free ride to college, everyone cannot be given individual attention and everyone cannot be taught about his/her culture with government aid. There are many successful minority individuals who have made it without such aid. And they have pursued their goals without hurting anyone or breaking the law.

I admire these people because they understand that they are in charge of their circumstances and not anyone else. Juvenile crime is a problem that jeopardizes all of us. Laws like Proposition 21 are trying to make the right decisions when juvenile crime is the issue.

Cardinal Roger Mahony opposed the initiative. He believes that today’s youth require counseling and rehabilitation to improve their behavior. But why give them a second chance at committing a crime? Juvenile offenders don’t make mistakes. They choose to commit crimes and are fully aware of the consequences. The law need not distinguish the adult from the child when infractions take place—the severity of the punishment should be the same either way.

At a Prop. 21 conference last month, I asked how education would lower the juvenile crime rate. The youth activists gave me no real answer, blaming everything on former governor Pete Wilson.

We need to protect the future

I am ashamed when I see what today’s youth has become. I can’t find compassion for offenders because they inflict problems on others and myself on a day-to-day basis. That’s why I understand the need for society to point a finger at possible juvenile criminals. I see the results of crimes and wish the consequences to be as severe as the crimes. A first-time offender needs to accept responsibility for what he/she has done and find it in him/herself to improve.

I can agree that some juveniles are trying to improve themselves, but wanting to change is different from actually changing. I don’t think that offenders are ever victims. We should be more worried about the real victims—people who have been hurt by their crimes. The law needs to be stern with juvenile offenders now because by tomorrow it will be too late. Do you want to live in a world made up of villains? I don’t.