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April 1, 2009 > Community forum on youth violence seeks solutions

Community forum on youth violence seeks solutions

By Miriam Mazliach

In an effort to understand the reasons behind youth violence and break the cycle, the City of Fremont, its Human Relations Commission, and the Fremont Unified School District sponsored "Our Community: Addressing Youth Violence" on March 19.

Debra Watanuki of the Human Relations Commission feels strongly that such forums are essential. "We need to reach young people. We may all have different faiths and beliefs, but let's see how we can come together to make a difference and have a greater impact on our kids."

Teen dating violence
Teen dating violence can be physical, psychological or sexual.

Attendees were told a startling 28 percent of tweens (ages 11-14) are having sex. Other types of pressure for all teens are cyber bullying with cell phones by using inappropriate pictures as blackmail, spreading rumors, snooping into personal property, coercion for sex, violence and unhealthy possessive relationships.

Statistically, one of every three teens will be in an abusive relationship by graduation. This crosses all socio-economic boundaries and ethnic groups, yet 86 percent of parents don't think it could happen to their child.

Young people who get involved in these relationships usually have a difficult family history, including an abusive relationship with one or both parents. Most are missing a good romantic role model and have a distorted perception of what is a normal relationship.

Warning signs are unexplained injuries, changes in appearance, a dating partner who is constantly checking up on the teen, giving up activities or old friends, isolating, apologizing for a partner's bad behavior, and always being with the dating partner.

Bullying and peer pressure
Degrees of bullying can range from emotional and sexual intimidation to coercion and even academic bullying, wherein kids only associate with other A students. Those who have been abused or have a history of being bullied are more likely to continue that pattern towards others. If it is not stopped, it can lead to truancy, emotional scarring, physical and mental illness, substance abuse, anti-social or criminal behavior, and gang affiliation.

A new California education code says a student may be suspended for bullying another student.

Adults can do more to solve this problem by telling young people to report incidents of bullying and abuse, being aware of the signs and symptoms of bullying and harassment, keeping the lines of communication open, and providing counseling opportunities from professionals or peers.

"We as a community need to provide information to FUSD regarding bullying and harassment and encourage parents to work together for a safer educational environment for all," Val Williams of FUSD concluded.

Gangs and gang violence
"Gangs and gang violence" was presented by Andres Soto of the Violence Prevention Initiative and Agent William Carattini of the Fremont Police Department.

"Violence is a cultural and learned behavior, going back throughout history," Soto stated. "Most violence is based on a power imbalance, a response of the excluded."

This feeling of hopelessness lures people into gangs. But violence can be unlearned.

"Teach non-violence as a philosophy," Soto continued. "Celebrate ethnic diversity and promote peace and equality. Disarm civilians and the police. Stop the economy of violence by interrupting those who profit from the gun industry. Increase educational funding, invest in after-school programs, job training and gang prevention measures."

Fremont police have documented over 3,100 gang members. The identifying traits of a gang: a common name or symbol, hanging out as a group, claiming a particular area or turf, wearing a particular color of clothing, committing crimes and fighting rival gangs.

Carattini explained some of the reasons teens join gangs. "These teens are looking for acceptance. Many are from broken homes without family security or supervision. Others are forced to join a gang because of the area they live in, or they feel that the gang will provide them with expensive clothing and luxuries."

A former gang member in the audience said not enough is being done to keep kids out of gangs. "Too many kids are dying for nothing. You need mediators. You need to reach out to the right people and get them to talk to one another. These kids don't have faith or love."

"When you're young, you're frightened by the violence," former gang member Farah Dews remarked. "But once you see this, you know it's not cool. I was able to back away." He now works with young people to keep them out of gangs and give them a different perspective on life.

Only concerned and involved citizens can make a difference and effect change in children's lives, the forum concluded.

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