Police crackdown

With the advent of crack, juvenile arrests in New York City tripled from 1983 to 1987 and almost quadrupled in the same time frame in Washington, D. C. Adults who founded the crack trade recognized early on that young adolescents do not run the risk of mandatory jail sentences that courts hand out adults. Being a lookout is the entry-level position for 9- and 10-year-olds. They can make as much as $100 a day warning dealers that police are in the area.

The next step up the ladder is as a runner, a job that can pay as much as $300 a day. A runner transports drugs to the dealers on the street from makeshift factories where cocaine powder is cooked into rock-hard crack. And, at the next level, older adolescents can reach the status of dealer. In a hot market like New York City, they can make over $1,000 a day. The escalating drug-related gang violence is difficult to contain of reduce. Police crackdown across the country seem to have a minimal impact.

In a recent weekend-long raid of drug-dealing gangs in Los Angeles, police arrested 1,453 individuals, including 315 adolescents. Half had to be released for lack of evidence. The Los Angeles Country juvenile facilities are designed to house 1,317, but today they overflow with more than 2,000 adolescents. Counselors, school officials, and community workers report turning around the lives of children and adolescents involved in drug-related gang violence is extremely difficult. When impoverished children can make $100 a day, it is hard to wean them away from gangs.

Federal budgets for training and employment programs, which provide crucial assistance to disadvantage youth, have been reduced dramatically. However, in Detroit, Michigan, Dolores Bennett has made a difference. For 25 years, she has worked long hours trying to find things to keep children from low-income families busy. Her activities have led to the creation of neighborhood sports teams, regular fairs and picnics, and an informal job-referral service for the children and youth in the neighborhood.

She also holds many casual get-together for the youth in her small, tidy, yellow frame house. The youth talk openly and freely about their problems and their hopes, knowing that Dolores will listen. Dolores says that she has found being a volunteer to be priceless. On the mantel in her living room are hundreds of pictures of children and adolescents with whom she has worked. She points out that most of them did not have someone in their homes who would listen to them and give them love.

America needs more Dolores Bennetts. Indeed, gangs have a certain magnetism unlike no other. Gangs give members companionship, guidance, excitement and identity. In the end, gang members have significantly lower levels of self-esteem and compared to their non-gang peers. Thus, there ought to be more understanding of the deviant youth’s motivations and goals in order to spur him/her to take new friends and lead a healthier, clean life.


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