Local News

Forum Looks for Solution to Youth Crime in Durham

Posted April 16, 2008 10:09 p.m. EDT
Updated April 16, 2008 11:14 p.m. EDT

— Youth violence and gangs were the hot topics at a forum in Durham on Wednesday evening. Solutions to the problems were less easily addressed.

Carmen Jones said she sees violence at her high school, especially when it comes to gangs.

"From friends that I know personally and from our school, there is a lot of peer pressure," she said.

Retired juvenile justice officer Donnie Phillips told the group that about a quarter of youth that enter the justice system are in gangs. Many acknowledge the problem is there, but a solution isn't.

"When your social fabric is one where the community doesn't believe in the school system, doesn't believe in county government, doesn't believe in the things that are important, it opens up the door for persons to look at something else to believe in," Phillips said.

A 2004 study from the Governor's Crime Commission documented more than 8,500 gang members and 387 gangs in North Carolina. Observers said both figures have grown with the state's population in the past four years.

Lawmakers said they are on the verge of strengthening anti-gang legislation. A bill calling for stiffer penalties for gang-related violence already passed the House, and many lawmakers said they expect it to pass the Senate when the General Assembly reconvenes in May.

Maj. B.J. Council , who heads the city police department's Operations Command, said a meaningful solution will curb the problem before police get involved. Once they do, it is often hard to help.

"It's difficult to get neighborhood watch in low-income neighborhoods ... because they are afraid,” Council said.

Paulette Thorpe, whose grandson was murdered, spoke of a similar problem.

“We went with the police door to door to try and get information. You should have seen how the people treat us," Thorpe said.

"It's not going to take one person. It's gonna take the whole community," Jones said.

Several people talked about the need to get young people out of gangs at the forum held at the Hayti Heritage Center, 804 Fayetteville St. One idea was to have a safe home for gang members to go to when they want to get out.