More prevention needed to curb youth violence

This summer has had a bleakness. Not just coolness of the thermometer, but a heartbreaking chill that accompanies seeing images of parents mourning the loss of a child. A season that is supposed to be a carefree time for kids has been punctured by violence against youth. And many of these horrific acts have been at the hands of the young, as well.

There are no easy answers to reducing youth violence, but this summer is more proof why prevention efforts must be strengthened. Programs and strategies that have already proven effective in the area should be bolstered, as others are explored. Curbing the cycle of violence requires renewed focus by community leaders, city and school officials and the faith community and more vigilance on the part of parents, neighbors and the police.

We struggle to comprehend the despair that could drive a 12-year-old to go to a playground to attack a child he didn’t know in hopes his own life would then be taken. In the same week this unfathomable act sent shock waves through West Michigan and beyond, other young lives were cut short. A Grand Rapids 17-year-old died after he was shot accidentally by a teenage friend, and two teens were stabbed in the Holland area, with only one surviving. Muskegon, our neighbor to the north, continues to grieve the loss of a high school basketball player, reportedly singled out at random by a shooter barely out of his teens.

While the rates of youth homicide have dropped dramatically in the United States since the mid-1990s, homicide remains a leading cause of death among youth ages 10 to 24, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Violence is also a major cause of nonfatal injuries among youth. The CDC’s research identifies key risk factors that can lead to violence, including untreated mental health problems, abuse, gang involvement, and the lack of parental support.

There are many issues at play here, both economic and social. Many children in our community do not grow up in safe and secure homes. One in five children in Kent County lives in poverty. The number of children living in homes investigated for abuse or neglect has doubled in recent years.

Our community hasn’t turned a blind eye to this violence, but it’s time to take another look at how we can prevent more deaths. We commend the efforts already underway to provide positive intervention and develop relationships with young people, but we must continue to explore and consider other solutions to address a problem that has no single root cause.

– The Grand Rapids Press