- The Washington Times - Monday, September 26, 2005

Gone are the days of sugar and spice and everything nice, when girls and women graciously accepted slurs and slights by merely rolling their eyes.

You don’t have to watch hip-hop videos or movies such as “The Upside of Anger” to know that members of the weaker sex today are more apt to flex their missy muscles, at least verbally, in retaliation to a perceived attack.

“I’d rather face a man with a gun than a woman. … They’re apt to be more violent than men,” said Lowell Duckett, a private security union official who worked on a D.C. task force dealing with girl gangs that were beginning to emerge in the late 1980s.

From spitting to stabbing, girls will be girls? In recent years, criminologists have warned that female criminal behavior is increasing as the jails and prisons fill with women, and teenage girls are not only joining male gangs but increasingly forming their own bad bands.

Last month, for example, I was out with friends when we noticed other diners gazing out the restaurant window at a group of girls and women furiously going at each with their fists.

The police were called to break up the fight, we were told later, that started because one group of girls from another neighborhood “thought they were cute and said something wrong out the mouth” to one of the girls who lived in the Northwest neighborhood where the catfight occurred.

Note: Some of them threw their high heels and their hoop earrings to the curb first.

This feline fracas came rushing back to mind when I heard the news of Kanisha Neal, the apparently affable 15-year-old Rockville High School student who was stabbed during a fight with a group of girls leaving a football game at James Hubert Blake High School in Montgomery County on Friday evening.

Initial police reports indicate that the fight stemmed from a weeks-old feud about an earlier spitting incident. An unidentified 15-year-old female Sherwood High School student from Olney is being held in youth detention after being charged with second-degree murder in the beating and stabbing of Kanisha, Montgomery police reported.

Police and school officials also said they did not think school rivalry or gang activity was at the heart of the attack. The knife may have been provided by a third girl.

Joyce Neal told The Washington Post that her daughter was a good kid who was not involved in gangs, nor was she aware of her having a feud with anyone.

She did say her daughter “won’t take anything from anybody, but she never strikes first,” even though she has been taunted for being heavyset. Kanisha was in a fight several years earlier for which she was expelled.

Why strike at all? Just as their male counterparts are likely to resort to deadly force to resolve disputes, so too are girls picking up knives, guns and baseball bats to protect themselves and their territory, to gain money or to win a warped sense of honor and respect.

“With this hip-hop stuff out here, girls are just mimicking the culture,” Mr. Duckett said.

Social graces aside, Kanisha’s aunt, Candy Neal, in an interview with WRC-TV (Channel 4), blamed her niece’s death on the lack of school security.

School security is only half the problem. Parents, as well as some brave students, must take the lead in letting authorities know of beefs brewing outside the schoolhouse doors.

School officials cannot succumb to the increasing violence by canceling games — an important element of student life, particularly for those seek-ing athletic scholarships as their only means of attending college.

Hiring more security guards or assigning more police officers to patrol games is helpful, but they cannot be everywhere. Armies of parent volunteers are even better. But neither goes far enough to prevent the underlying problems causing the violence, particularly among teenage girls, which are largely ignored until a tragedy occurs.

Mr. Duckett said he became frustrated because officials did not take the problem of violent girls seriously. “The problem is not new; whenever you have spitting, beating and bumping, you’ve got a gang problem. It starts that way.”

Most intervention and prevention programs are geared to boys and young men. Often, church and community-outreach programs, where they exist, are designed to “save our males.” When and if the issues facing girls and young women are even considered, they primarily are concerned with teen pregnancy. Even here, the government and social services focus is on the baby, not the child having the baby.

Many girls who are involved in gangs or acting out in violent ways “are the children of incarcerated women and who have little or no parental guidance, so they get their cues from what they pick up in the streets, and that is an issue,” said Margaret Moore, a criminal justice professor at the University of the District of Columbia.

One Montgomery County school board member tried to offer reassurance, saying Kanisha’s death was an isolated incident — don’t overreact.

Montgomery County is the same school system that experienced another death after a football game a week earlier, and several small skirmishes off the field.

Now is exactly the time to overreact — not only in Montgomery County. We have a regional problem with juvenile anger management, exhibited by boys and girls, that’s manifesting itself in deadly scrimmages, fights and gang activity. We can no longer ignore the warning signs or allow ourselves to be fooled by crime statistics that make us feel that all is well.

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