This year’s YWCA Greater Pittsburgh Week Without Violence strayed from last year’s focus on Black-on- Black street violence and opened its scope to include violence hitting several different segments of society.
“We wanted to focus this week on all types of violence—amongst males and females, including gays and lesbians, date violence and on the recent increasing levels of violence among girls,” said CEO Magdeline Jensen. “Street violence can be perpetrated on all of these populations, but we wanted the message during the week to bring focus on some of the other forms of violence that pervade our society.”
Among the topics covered throughout the week were several issues of importance to Pittsburgh’s young people, including the issue of increasing violence in schools and female participation in violence.
In a forum lead by the Mayor’s Youth Council, Pittsburgh area high school students presented solutions for how to decrease violence in their high schools. Their presentation focused on eight steps for violence prevention and intervention and included firsthand accounts of violence.
“The Mayor’s Youth Council did a fantastic job of putting together the presentation on ‘Making Our Schools Safer,’” Jensen said. “It is our hope that this forum is just the start of involving more schools and students to share their important messages on school safety.”
Close to 30 people attended the forum but few if any of those present in the audience were students. In order to increase the reach of the presentation, many at the forum said the Youth Council should reenact the presentation at schools around the city.
The students said staying involved in extracurricular activities and focused on academics was the primary way to avoid violence. They also said conflicts should be resolved through peer or faculty mediation and that students should not fight back when faced with physical conflicts.
“I stay in after-school activities. I stay in sports. I stay in music. I always have something I’m doing because I don’t want to be involved in violent acts like that,” said Raymont Conner. “I live in a neighborhood where people are dying all the time. It’s about decision-making. I make the decision to stay away from those things.”
Conner, who is a junior at Brashear High School, opened his portion of the presentation with the story of a fight he witnessed. Conner said when the victim in the fight refused to give the assailants his money they began beating him.
Conner chose not to intervene physically and instead urged the victim to give the assailants his money, eventually ending the fight.
The students cited a 2005 U.S. Department of Justice Survey that found that one in every 200 students is involved in a serious violent crime. In light of this statistic, they discussed the different causes for violence in schools.
“It could be just your personality, where you live, and what you think is important. Sometimes it can happen because of something small,” said Lavota Carter, a junior at Schenley High School. “For me school comes first, but for other students, your home life could be a factor. They could be focused on school, but their home life is a distraction.”
Jeff Martin, a junior at Taylor Allderdice High School, said society glamorizes violence and the media’s portrayal of it has a tendency to distance violence from reality. He also emphasized the presentation’s focus on prevention as a means of decreasing violence.
“We’re surrounded by violence everyday and we recognize that beyond the glitz and the glamour you see on TV, there are consequences behind the violence,” Martin said. “The city government should be reaching out more. They should provide a safe haven for kids and instead of just a law enforcement approach, they should stop it before it gets to that point.”
Later in the week, Langley High School students were presented with the growing problem of women in violence. The forum was led by panelists representing the fields of criminal justice, social work and education.
The panelists said it was important that society not ignore the issue of women becoming more involved in violence. They engaged the students in order to discuss possible solutions to the problem and to extend their support in making sure the students did not become part of the problem.
“A lot of times we look at what the males do, but we don’t necessarily look at what the female does and how it relates to her,” said Diane Richards, who works for the Pittsburgh City Police. “When we do, we find that a lot of young ladies have a lot of pent up aggression.”