Kids in the Crosshairs

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I’m sitting on my brother’s back porch north of Seattle. Inside, I hear my 14-month-old nephew testing his consonants— "b, b, b, ball!" The dogs have found a spot in the sun and are collapsed on top of each other. It’s family. I’m grateful for it—because it could have been otherwise.

Not long before the visit to my brother’s house, I attended a presentation, called "A Reality Tour of Youth Violence in Washington, D.C.," sponsored by teenage organizers in my neighborhood. They were also talking about family, violence, and a culture of neglect.

The Youth Action Research Group (YARG) interviewed black and Latino youth all over D.C. to get their perspectives on youth violence and youth-based solutions. At least 22 young people died as a result of gun violence in D.C. in 2004, reported YARG. Four kids were killed in gang-related violence within blocks of the YARG office.

"[S]ome people are in a gang because it is like a family for them," one teenager reported to 16-year-old YARG researcher Denisse. "They don’t have no family, they don’t have no support—so they get that support from the street...and they join a gang. Because you’re in a gang, you shouldn’t just get locked up—they just need help. They need love."

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Sojourners Magazine February 2005
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