The boy in the mirror
Two days after a pair of stories appeared on the front page of this newspaper about our juvenile crime problem and the grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, news broke about yet another teenager in this county who has been charged with murder. That person becomes the eighth one awaiting trial who has been charged with committing murder while a teenager. Additionally, Robeson County, in 2008, ranked fifth in the state in the naked number of youths charged with violent crimes, defined as manslaughter, murder, rape, robbery or aggravated assault, and involving force or the threat of force. But our rate leads the state as the only counties we trail in numbers — Wake, Mecklenburg, Guilford and Cumberland — dwarf us in population size.
So the problem is plain, and explains why the CDC picked Robeson County as the site of its first juvenile crime center that is based in a rural area. Center, however, is a bit of a misnomer, as the money — wonderfully — will not go to brick and mortar, but instead will fund a collaborative effort among the UNC School of Social Work, the UNC Injury Prevention Research Center, and community agencies from throughout Robeson County, including the Health Department, the nonprofit Center for Community Action and the Public Schools of Robeson County. They will join to identify the root causes of juvenile crime in this county and come up with fixes.
Presumably the center, which will track 3,000 students beginning in middle school over five years, will be looking for engines that drive juvenile crime that are unique to rural areas. We’re not sure there is much to find, believing that the same culprits will be identified as in urban areas, such as, and in no particular order: single-parent families; teenage mothers; drugs; alcohol; lack of education; and poverty. Unfortunately, this county ranks high on all of those lists, and others that similarly contribute to the problem as well.
“This project is not at all about Chapel Hill researchers coming in and telling you what to do. It is about us working closely with the community,” said Paul Smokowski, director of the new North Carolina Academic Center for Excellence in Youth Violence Prevention. “How successful the program will be depends on the time, energy, and caring the community brings to it.”
Disappointingly, this juvenile crime wave more resembles a tsunami, and will be difficult to reverse because there are so many areas that need attention. But the CDC, by providing a $6.5 million grant, has highlighted a problem in this county that locally we have failed to deal with.
It will force a hard look in the mirror, one that is long overdue, and the reflection will not be flattering.
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