- The Washington Times - Monday, August 23, 2004

We could list the names, promises and dreams of each of the 17 youths killed in the District this year, or we could list a few of them. The point? The escalating violence by and against youth in the District has reached disturbing proportions. City leaders are toughening laws. Now that everyone’s moving into back-to-school mode, we urge parents to take the lead.

Last year this time, only 12 youths under the age of 18 had been killed, as compared to the 17 this year. As this newspaper recently reported, almost 15 percent of the District’s homicide victims this year have been children, and most of them were fatally shot.

The good news is that 2004 may see the lowest number of homicides overall since 1985. Also, there has been a decrease in assaults with a deadly weapon and stolen cars as compared to the same period last year. But while we congratulate the Metropolitan Police Department for its efforts, the facts cannot be overlooked. Despite the city’s tough anti-gun laws, the city’s young are dying, and they are too frequently pulling the trigger on one another.

D.C. Council member Kathy Patterson has proposed the Juvenile Justice Emergency Act of 2004, which passed the Judiciary Committee and is likely to go before the full council in the fall. The legislation aims to prevent judges from dismissing juvenile cases without getting to the merits of the case and also requires a child’s parent or guardian to be involved in his rehabilitation. The legislation is a step in the right direction. Mayor Tony Williams also has suggested that the age a juvenile can be tried as an adult be lowered to 15. The council has not yet acted in regard to this matter, and we urge them to do so. Teens must be held accountable for their actions.

Tougher juvenile-justice laws alone will not solve the problem of youth-on-youth violence. Parents must take an active role in the lives of their children. Before- and after-school programs are worthwhile programs. Indeed, we applaud organizations such as the Alliance of Concerned Men, whose volunteers broker treaties among gangs, counsel incarcerated men on parenting and attend PTA meetings on behalf of children whose parents are AWOL.

But the ultimate burden lies at home. We challenge D.C. parents to actively shape their children’s lives, to take an interest in their studies and to know their friends — and get the 2004-05 school year off to a good start.

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