Can Anything be done to solve this problem?
by Anitra Brown
Juvenile crime has spiked in New Orleans. Actually, that is an understatement. From 2016 to 2018, juvenile felony arrests have more than doubled from 300 to 735. And youth are being arrested more and more for especially violent crimes. The arrests of juveniles for shootings, armed robberies and sexual assaults increased from 37 in 2015 to 339 in 2018, according to data collected by Orleans Parish Juvenile Court.
DA Leon Cannizzaro has called violent juvenile crime the city’s top safety issue. That’s up for the debate. Despite the spike, others contend that the DA is overstating the issue, arguing that juvenile arrests still only represent a small portion of all violent crime arrests made in the city and that Cannizzaro is just trying to make youth–mostly black and poor youth, especially–out to be big bad boogie men terrorizing the town.
But the exact number of felonious juveniles arrested and charged with crimes or how those numbers compare with adults arrested for violent crimes mean absolutely nothing when you are scared to walk down the street or afraid that your car is going to burglarized or vandalized. To be sure, wrangling over data really becomes trite when your loved one is killed by a someone too young to vote, or drink or even shave. Last week, a couple in mid-city attempting to stop the burglary of their vehicle was shot by the 17-year-old car suspect. The 63-year-old woman died from her injuries. Last December, a pastor’s wife was killed–run over by a car–during a carjacking by two teens and a juvenile.
The families of these women don’t want to haggle over numbers. Neither should we. It is solution time.
We can’t afford to lose another life to senseless violence. Nor can we afford to have another young person lost forever to the criminal justice system because of stupid, senseless, and violent acts.
One more will be one too many.
There is no shortage of institutions, individuals and issues to share the blame for the problem–a broken juvenile justice system, policing failures, failing schools, and an inequitable economic landscape.
Youth in New Orleans need jobs and better economic opportunities. They need better educational opportunities. Until and unless our city’s leaders and the policies they enact and implement address the root causes of crime, New Orleans will continue to have a problem with both juvenile and adult crime and violence.
Yet, attacking juvenile crime at the root of the problem–a lack of opportunity and inequity–is no quick fix. It requires long-term solutions that will take a time for tangible results to show. It will be hard work, but it will also be worth it. And there must be people doing this work for the sake of the future.
But, what should we do in the meantime? What should we do while we wait for jobs that need to be created, training that must be provided, degrees that haven’t been conferred, and economic opportunity that is not yet equitable to finally stop the bullets and the burglaries?
The answer is plain. We must hold every individual and institution charged with addressing this issue RIGHT NOW accountable and responsible for it RIGHT NOW–schools, city leaders, the juvenile court system, the police department, parents and youth.
Curfew laws need to be strictly enforced for juveniles. Statistics that show a drop in juveniles being detained for curfew violations is likely the result of police spending less time focusing on identifying and detaining youth too young to be on the streets alone after a certain hour than it is the result of fewer youth breaking curfews. Policing must be effective, consistent, fair, results-driven and community-oriented.
Meanwhile, Orleans Parish Public Schools, with its patchwork of quasi-private charter operations, must reign in the ability of each one of these independent schools and their leaders to arbitrarily expel students. Turning students out on the streets by suspending and expelling them, criminalizing school-level discipline issues all while failing to provide them with the quality education they deserve contributes to the problem of juvenile delinquency at a fundamental level.
The juvenile justice system–from the prosecutor’s officer to public defenders to child and family services to the courts–must also step up its game. When a young person finds him or herself in the juvenile justice system, the opportunity to positively impact a life, the chance to help a child in need of direction and correction cannot be wasted. Juvenile offenders should not be treated like adults; but through adjudication and even after, they should be appropriately punished, intensely supervised and adequately rehabilitated. When incarceration is necessary, the focus cannot be on simply jailing a youthful offender. It must be on preparing that young person to return to society.
There must be programs and protocols in place to monitor their progress and activity. Addressing recidivism and re-entry can no longer be issues for the systems designed to deal with adult offenders. The ability of minors to find their place in society after an encounter with the criminal justice system is just as important for them as it is for adults. Perhaps it is more important.
Finally, and perhaps more importantly, parents and youth must take responsibility. Really, it’s midnight. And if you don’t know where your teenager is, you should! There is a big difference between advocating for/protecting our children and foolishly defending them when they are wrong or not providing the oversight they need. Young people must understand that there are consequences for their actions. And if they are not facing consequences at home, they will certainly face them in the streets. Parents who are dropping the ball must be accountable.
Of course, every kid that gets in trouble doesn’t do so because their families are failing. So many of our families face challenges daily just to make ends meet that even the most important things can fall through the cracks. So as a community, we have to seal the cracks. Systems must be in place to support those who are doing their best, but facing obstacles leading their young people in the right path. The Mayor’s office of Youth and Family Services can be a powerful weapon in that arsenal if used effectively by linking parents in need of help to resources.
The bottom line is that any solution to addressing juvenile crime must be a concerted effort among all with a vested interest in the community.
And since that should be each and every resident of the city, ask yourself how you can help.