Boston’s Youth Gun Culture Mirrors Trend Abroad

September 22, 2008 08:56 AM
by Josh Katz
Boston is battling an apparent surge in youth gun violence. Other communities in the country, as well as abroad, are confronting similar problems with youth.

Numbers Rising Among Youth

Youth violence has plagued Boston for the last six years, according to The Boston Globe. While the number of shootings as a whole has risen since 2002 in Boston, shooting victims 17 and younger have almost tripled in that period of time; 67 cases were reported in 2007 as compared to 23 in 2002. “In addition, young victims represent an expanding proportion of all shooting victims over that same time frame, from 13 percent in 2002 to more than 21 percent in 2007,” according to the Globe.

This year does not appear to be any different: as of Sept. 14, there had been 53 shooting victims 17 years and younger. Authorities and analysts are pointing to a new culture among youth, where shooting has become commonplace, even for “seemingly inconsequential disputes.”

"Part of the code was families were off-limits, but that code does not exist anymore," said Rev. Bruce H. Wall, senior pastor of Global Ministries Christian Church in Dorchester, in an interview with the Globe.

Police have provided community programs and summer jobs in an attempt to get youth off of the streets. The Boston Globe article cites a 2006 Harvard University survey which indicates that about 240 of 1200 students questioned throughout Boston had seen a shooting and felt unsafe where they lived. “More than 40 percent believed it was easy to get a gun, and 28 percent said they did not feel safe on the bus or train.”

Police Commissioner Edward F. Davis notes that the problem of youth gun violence is not limited to Boston, but is a nationwide problem.

Youth violence is a major issue in nearby Hartford, Conn., where a 9 p.m. curfew has been enforced since Aug. 14 for anyone 18 and younger. A Hartford Courant op-ed by the city’s chief of police, Daryl K. Roberts, argues that the curfew has been successful: “Since the curfew began, shooting incidents in Hartford have decreased by 37.7 percent and shooting victims by 54.2 percent, when compared with the previous 28 days. Most notably, in the Northeast section of the city, we have seen a decrease in shooting victims of 71.4 percent and a decrease in shooting incidents of 62.5 percent.”

But the op-ed clarifies that the success cannot entirely be attributed to the curfew. For example, a "Shooting Team" has been put in place to arrest the “25 most dangerous people” in the city. Roberts also writes that, curfew or not, “nothing replaces the power and influence of responsible parenting.”

Despite these local trends, the Virginia Youth Institute indicates that juvenile violence is not on the rise nationwide. Using data from the FBI Uniform Crime Reports, the Institute shows that youth violence has decreased from 1993 to 2006. In 1993, 3,284 youths were arrested for homicide and other juvenile violent crimes, while in 2006 there were 956 arrests.

The Institute claims that, “This decline cannot be attributed to a decline in the juvenile population because the juvenile population increased. There are likely multiple factors responsible for the drop, including declining violence associated with drug gangs, effective community-oriented law enforcement efforts, as well as numerous school and community-based efforts to prevent violence.”

But the organization’s chart does not suggest that juvenile violence is decreasing overall in the 21st century, either. According to the Institute, 806 arrests occurred in 2000, with 957 in 2001 and then 956 in 2006. Arrests shot up in 2004 to 1,065, but that number dropped to 929 in 2005. The lowest number occurred in 2003, with 783 arrests reported.

Related Topic: Knife attacks among British youth

On the other side of the Atlantic, youth violence is an issue, as well. At the end of July, Agence France-Presse reported that crimes involving knives were up drastically in Britain, and the average age of the offenders was decreasing. Scotland Yard Deputy Assistant Commissioner Alf Hitchcock described “a worrying change in the age profile of offenders and victims, which has decreased … down to early to mid-teens.”

The BBC reported in June that efforts to curb the trend of knife crimes among Britain's youth included the prosecution of anyone 16 and over found carrying a knife. The British government also launched massive anti-knife media campaigns for TV, radio and Internet to try to deter youth from participating in what is being called a burgeoning “knife culture.”

Stabbings among teens on Britain’s streets—often in broad daylight—had some experts describing knives as the latest necessity for young people; some sport them for fashion purposes, while others wear them for protection.

A study of 28 countries found last year that 13 percent of violent crime victims in England and Wales had been stabbed or threatened with a knife, according to The Times of London.

But despite growing public concern, some Brits wondered whether the numbers really added up. “This is certainly not the first time that the issue of young people carrying—and using—knives has hit the headlines, but a glut of high-profile murders in a relatively short space of time has heightened fears,” wrote Haroon Siddique in the Guardian.

The Economist compares the knife craze to a recent rash of youth suicides in the Welsh town of Bridgend, suggesting that “dying young” is becoming a popular image in Britain: “Emotional tributes and alarmist news coverage are now believed to have provided unwitting encouragement, by adding romance to the miserable business of dying young.”

Canada has a youth knife culture of its own. The Vancouver Province described a "fairly typical" weekend in May, during which two men were stabbed to death in the cities of Abbotsford and Penticton. According to the article: "Despite the publicity surrounding gun violence, knives seem to be the weapon of choice for young rowdies. And not just in this province."

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