It's easy, politically speaking, to be tough on crime and hard on criminals. But the real way to reduce youth violence isn't enforcement but prevention, two congressmen told a few dozen people at Weaver High School Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. Rep. John Larson of Connecticut and U.S. Rep. Robert Scott of Virginia came to Weaver to discuss federal legislation that would, if passed, put $2.9 billion each year into the hands of local organizations that work to understand and prevent youth violence.
"We need to dismantle the cradle-to-prison pipeline and create the cradle-to-college pipeline," said Scott, the chairman of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.
Mayor Eddie A. Perez briefly joined the two legislators on the stage to discuss a bill that Scott sponsored and Larson co-sponsored. The bill, called the Youth Promise Act, would seek to reduce rates of imprisonment nationwide.
To do that, local communities facing youth and gang violence would form panels with representatives from law enforcement, court services, schools, social services, community and faith-based organizations. Together, they would develop a comprehensive plan for prevention and intervention strategies and, eventually, would award grant money.
Perez, in his introduction, said that this approach is known to be effective.
"This is exactly what we want to do," he said.
But Scott and Larson noted that it is a politically treacherous stand.
"If you speak on this issue, you're going to be soft on crime," Larson said. "You're not going to be out there taking the hard line, which is the easy road to getting re-elected. But it doesn't provide a single answer or solution to what we need to do to rise up our communities and provide them with the necessary needs."
Representatives of several city organizations attended the meeting, as did a few dozen teenagers.
But attendee and community radio host Wasine Mark said that Larson and Scott were preaching to the choir.
"The congregation isn't here," he said, meaning the city's youth. "It's not reaching the grass roots."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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