Violent youth are all over the news. U.S. media has used the spotlight on blaming London riots on teenagers to highlight the present “danger” of youth flash mobs in our country. What the Today Show and other outlets don’t mention in their fearmongering is that youth flash mobs have been going on for a while. Philadelphia in particular has been dealing with them in recent years. Politicians and police officers call the participants violent and have criminalized the act of teenagers hanging out in groups.
Well over a year ago, then-high school seniors Zakia Royster and Dan Jones made excellent criticisms of those responses on this radio show. Royster and Jones were leaders in the Philadelphia Student Union in 2010. Their response to youth flash mobs with incidents of violence? 1. Not all youth are violent, and we cannot characterize them that way. 2. We must create spaces for youth to congregate and become positive community leaders.
Their points have some similarities to the insights of Jason Paul Grant in this post about London, “Attack of the Hoodies.” To answer some of the “why?” about the riots, Grant shares about the bleak life and future he faced growing up in South London and how none of those conditions have changed. He then reports the cognitive dissonance he feels now that has “joined the other half,” who are only miles away from the riots, yet are so removed from the conditions causing them that he says they might as well be in Australia trying to understand.
Making the point that there are huge sectors of the youth population (“the hoodies”) that we (adults/society) have ignored, Grant recalls an experience working at a center for kids who’d been expelled from school:
On my first day I wanted to know what they wanted to be when they grew up. The main answer was a drug dealer. I was shocked…It was how they saw their adults making money.
Similarly, I have been disturbed by my boyfriend telling me that he wasn’t the only person in his rural PA high school who didn’t expect to live to age 25. But what horrifies me (more than a group of teenagers on the street) is that ADULTS actually told those kids those things.
Aside from personalized death sentences, we’re sending all kids that message of their lack of worth, when we divest from education (massive school budget cuts, anyone?) and fail to create institutions that support and develop youth. Instead of fearing youth, adult decisionmakers—like Philadelphia Mayor Nutter who has imposed a 9 p.m. weekend curfew on teenagers—should start caring about them.