Kids Keeping the Peace

August 19, 1994

A 15-year-old Columbia youth wielding a handgun wounded an older teen-ager in the back Tuesday because the older youth kicked his dog. The 15-year-old was apprehended, led away in tears and charged as an adult.

The same day, some 175 elementary school students gathered throughout Howard for training as peer mediators. They will fan out to their respective schools this fall to assist fellow students in resolving conflicts before they get out of hand.

We hope these students never come across a situation like this week's shooting. Still, the connection between the two events is undeniable.

Dispatching an army of youths to find diplomatic solutions to volatile situations is an important part of what is needed in a society where a teen-ager can shoot another in a rage over a dog. The same cadre of children who will negotiate settlements in petty, school-yard disputes may one day save a life, or at least teach others the skills to address problems without resorting to violence.

Those who think the only deterrent to such crimes is harsh and speedy punishment need to ask themselves why, with our jail populations burgeoning, crime has not been significantly abated.

A two-pronged approach to crime prevention, one that emphasizes guidance and punishment, is essential. And yet the current partisan bickering in the nation's capital over the merits of midnight basketball as a tool for crime prevention suggests that some may have missed that point.

Luckily, such cynicism seems not to have affected Howard County's peer mediation program. Children can learn that diplomacy is a noble pursuit -- and perhaps no one can teach them better than their peers.

The school officials who are providing peer mediation training to the system's younger pupils are doing the community an invaluable service, one that we hope will have lasting impact.

As for the children who break the law or who persist in violent behavior, they must be made to understand the consequences for stepping out of line. For those who won't or can't accept appropriate guidance, discipline must be forthcoming, swift and sure. But combating violence is a juggling act of punishment and prevention. Howard school officials understand that.

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