Guest editorial…Fighting the enemy within

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by James H. Buford

Black-on-Black crime is often seen but rarely do we do anything about it. This year the St. Louis area is already on track to have an increased crime rate due to homicide, youth and domestic violence. I believe that now is the time for our communities to take a stand and say enough is enough, rather than sitting on the sidelines talking about the violence.

During the early Civil Rights Movement, Black-on-Black crime was not a major problem because African-Americans had one common enemy: racism. Today, the enemy is within our own communities as minority youths steal, kill and destroy one another for money, drugs or power.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, homicide is the leading cause of death for African-American men aged 15-34 and the second leading cause of death for young Black women aged 15-24. Of these murders, 93 percent are committed by African-Americans. A majority of Black female homicide victims are killed by their current or former boyfriends.

Although these numbers are daunting, more could be done to stop this vicious cycle of violence and despair that is happening in our community and other cities around the country.

Youth violence is the second leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-24. More than 50 percent of gang members are between the ages of 11-17, and 35 percent are African-American.

In the St. Louis area alone, there are more than 3,500 gang members, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s 2009 National Gang Threat Assessment. Gangs are responsible for more than 55 percent of the crimes occurring in urban areas, which include illegal alien smuggling, armed robbery, assault, auto theft, drug trafficking, extortion, fraud, home invasions, identity theft, murder and weapons trafficking.

With this being said, it is crucial for us to reach out to our youth.

A study measuring the “Protective Influence of Parents and Peers in Violence Avoidance among African-American Youth” (Smith, Flay, et.al., 2001) concluded that parents who maintain close relationships with their children help them to maintain friendships with positive, pro-active peers and reduce their chances of becoming involved in youth violence.

Thus, parents of at-risk youth need to make spending time with their children more of a priority to keep them off the streets. Positive, role models and mentors can also play a major role in motivating teens to plan positively for their futures.

Additionally, it is up to the entire community to invest in providing youths with the opportunities, education and relationships they will need in order to thrive in a challenging environment.

Rebuilding our community’s youth will take a concerted effort among parents, corporations, educators, residents, community leaders, government officials and law enforcement. We have to make violence prevention a priority in order to reduce the crime rate.

We have to do more than just talk about it on the news, gossip among ourselves and attend funerals. Now is the time for us to take a stand against violence and take back our communities.

(James Buford is president and CEO of the Urban League of Metropolitan St. Louis.)

(Reprinted from the St. Louis American.)

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