Crime toll on youth compared to war Treatment urged for witnesses to violence

October 17, 1993|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Staff Writer

Urban violence can't be eradicated until America treats its "war babies," the youngsters traumatized by the countless shootings and stabbings they witness, an East Baltimore

anti-crime group was told yesterday.

Dr. Beverly Coleman-Miller, a Washington-based public health consultant, said efforts to fight crime need to include counseling for children who see the violence and eventually come to glorify it.

Like the children growing up today in war-torn Bosnia, their young lives have been profoundly affected by the strife around them, she told a daylong summit on crime prevention sponsored by People United to Live in a Safe Environment (PULSE), a nonprofit anti-crime group, and Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"Every time a 19-year-old gets shot, there's a 9-year-old in the corner watching," Dr. Coleman-Miller said. "They don't process this information. They learn to describe incidents like they're some wonderful picture.

"They don't know any better," she continued. "At least the children growing up in Bosnia knew peace at one time. Our children have been ducking bullets as long as they've been living."

Organizers said the conference was intended to bring together disparate community groups working to lessen violence in East Baltimore. About 100 people gathered in the auditorium of Johns Hopkins University's School of Hygiene and Public Health to explain their work and share crime-prevention tips.

Dr. Coleman-Miller, 49, a faculty member at Howard University, said handgun violence cost the U.S. economy $7.1 billion last year in medical care. In Washington alone, violence costs the city $18 million a month, she said.

But more important, she said, is that violence has created a generation of young people who talk more comfortably about automatic weapons than childhood games, who attend the funerals of three peers a week, and who expect to die young.

"You have 14-year-olds facing their own mortality like young soldiers sent off to Vietnam," she said. "They are like young men who are terminally ill. They have no concept of a possibility of a future."

While police can prosecute a handful of criminal offenders, it's up to everyone to do something about the source of violence, she said.

Dr. Coleman-Miller told the community leaders to pressure the local media to portray the positive efforts that go on in the community. "Don't underestimate the power of the community," she said.

But she also told the group that adults are "too old" to reach 14-year-olds and that rhetoric -- hypocritical lectures on the importance of church attendance, for instance -- do little to change things. She invited community leaders, instead, to "bring youth to the table," to try to talk to young people and understand their concerns.

Sadly, the public only pays attention to violence when it's perpetrated against someone other than African-American males, she said. The recent murders of 11 tourists in Florida caused an instant reaction from policy-makers while the almost daily deaths of black crime victims in Miami were ignored.

"The disease of violence in Florida is getting a dose of what I call 'tour-icillin,'" she said. "You'll notice it's not African-American male-icillin."

Summit participants agreed to set up a permanent council to coordinate their crime-prevention efforts. Most were simply pleased to see groups that vary from tenant advocates to "Poodles on Patrol" (a crime watchers group) work together.

"I think we're definitely making headway just in pulling the community together," said Kirk Wilborne of Baltimore City Partnership For Drug Free Neighborhoods. "Even if no real solution came out of this, that's the first thing we needed to get done."

Baltimore Deputy Police Commissioner Eugene Tanzymore said he was pleased to see so much interest in crime prevention. The city needs all the help it can get from churches, community groups and the private sector to fight the violence, he said.

"These are things that should have been said a long time ago," Mr. Tanzymore said. "There's not one single answer."

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