Big names speak out on teen violence Daylong town hall meeting included panels of community, business leaders

By John Minnis

Legal News

Some of Detroit's most powerful advocates -- including former Mayor Dennis Archer, U.S. Attorney Barbara McQuade and Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy -- spoke out Monday, May 3, at the Teen Violence Town Hall Meeting at Youthville Detroit.

The town hall meeting was the second of three such meetings being held throughout the country. The first was held in Chicago, and the third will take place in San Francisco in August. The meetings are presented by the American Bar Association's Coalition on Racial and Ethnic Justice (COREJ).

"Dennis Archer is a man who understands education and has seen the plight of teen violence from many different perspectives and titles," said David Perkins, chair of COREJ and a referee in Wayne County Circuit Court. "As busy as Mr. Archer is, he could be at a thousand places. Yet today he is at Youthville.

Archer said that when he woke up today, he was excited about the town hall meeting on teen violence and what could come of it. Then he heard about the killing of a Detroit police officer and the wounding of four others on Detroit's east side in the early morning hours.

"It brought back many terrible memories for me," said Archer, who served as Detroit's mayor from January 1994 to December 2001. He said he knows what Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans and Mayor Dave Bing are going through.

"What occurred today did not involve a teen," Archer said, "but what they do here today can impact the future."

Former head of the ABA, Archer said anyone can quantify teen violence, but he admired the ABA for holding three town hall meetings to address the problem.

He noted that teen violence can come from parental influence.

"Sometimes teens don't get there by themselves," he said. "Parents have responsibility to make sure that their kids walk out (of the home) with a healthy respect for adults and their peers."

Archer said that although his father only had a third-grade education and was physically handicapped, he taught his son to say "yes sir" and "no sir" and that the teacher was always right.

He acknowledged that Detroit has many wonderful young people and many groups and organizations that work with youth.

Indicating McQuade and Worthy, Detroit's two top prosecutors, to his left, Archer said, "What I don't want for any of our young people is to meet these two individuals and those who work for them."

He pointed out that 65 percent of America's prison population is made up of people of color, which is particularly problematic since less than 30 percent of the population at large is Hispanic or African American.

Archer noted that by 2042 people of color will be in the majority of the population.

"What will happen," he said, "is we won't be in the leadership position necessary. That's why teen violence is important today. Young people represent our future. The future is in your hands."

U.S. Attorney McQuade led off the morn-ing panel on Government Policy/Legal Resources.

"Teen violence is a huge issue," she said. "So often it's easy to throw up your hands and say, 'What are we going to do about it?' It's not enough to tell kids to get good grades. We have to show them."

Indicating Worthy to her left, McQuade said, "We are prosecutors, but the most important thing is prevention."

McQuade mentioned several programs out of the U.S. attorney's office, including Project Century, which teaches the consequences of gun violence, and Camp DEFY (Drug Education for Youth), which teaches to positive consequences of making positive choices.

"As President Obama said," McQuade concluded, "we do not have to be prisoners of our fate. People always say that 'they' have to do something about teen violence. We are 'they.'"

Worthy recalled that when she became Wayne County prosecutor, she told The Detroit News that her office needed to work on teen violence.

"Because I wanted to talk about prevention," Worthy said, "I was 'soft on crime.' That's standard across the country now."

The county prosecutor said her office has some 14 programs to attempt to "change the culture of violence."

One such program addresses truancy. "We know when kids aren't in school they are getting in trouble," she said.

Another program is Teen Court, where youthful offenders are tried by their peers: fellow students. Worthy said the students are far more creative and exacting than a judge or prosecutor would be.

Other programs deal with bullying, post-Columbine reporting of violence in schools and gang issues.

"What about a good kids program?" Worthy asked. "We have many, many, overwhelming numbers of kids doing good things in Detroit. Send those stories to me."

James Spivey, of the Wayne County Sheriff's Department, mentioned several programs for teens, including Dose of Reality, where first-time offenders visit with prison inmates; SOSAD (Save Our Sons and Daughters); and Scared Stiff, where kids meet hardcore felons and murders.

Jameel Williams, of the Legal Aid Defenders Association, said his office has two neighborhood law clinics that meet with teens. His group also takes teens on trips to across town and to Washington, D.C.

"We try to expose them to things outside their community," he said.

Aaron Hopson, of Neighborhood Legal Services of Michigan, said his group's Street Law Program attempts to teach teens the law, both for knowledge and as a deterrent.

"We teach that the law does not have to work against them," he said, "that the law can work for them."

Penny Bailer of City Year, an outgrowth of the AmeriCorps program established by President Bill Clinton, described how18- to 24-year-old volunteers work a year in urban schools instead of in developing countries as in the Peace Corps.

She said the time to keep kids from falling out of the education system is while they are in middle school. Key indicators are attendance, behavior and class performance.

Ronaldo Foster is a product of Detroit Public Schools and a graduate of Michigan State University. He has been accepted at Howard University School of Law. He spoke well of the Teen Court program.

He said motivation was a main factor for student success, and education was the leading factor for success in life.

"I really love this city," he said. "We can succeed, but it is going to be a battle. We can't do this alone."

The daylong town hall meeting at Youthville included panels on Community Leaders/Business Leaders, Mentoring/Youth Development and Education/Parents/Lifeskills.

"Today is about positive things," said Perkins, the town hall meeting moderator. "The purpose of the three town hall meetings is to create a resource guide, a national plan of action."

Published: Wed, May 5, 2010