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Keeping
the Peace
Attitudes & Approaches

by Kathiann Kowalski

Reacting to untrue rumors about a rape, suburban teens beat 16-year-old Eddie to death on the steps of a Philadelphia church. Fifteen months later, in February 1996, three young men were convicted of third-degree murder and a fourth was convicted of voluntary manslaughter. All four, together with two other boys, were found guilty of conspiracy.

Could this violence have been prevented? Ever since Cain killed his brother, Abel, we—ve been troubled by crime. Sadly, violence remains a real problem—even for teens.

According to the FBI, 685 of every 100,000 people in the United States were victims of violent crime in 1995. Being a teen, says the FBI, makes you three times more likely than the "average" American to become a victim of violent crime.

That—s the bad news. The good news is that there are steps you can take to protect yourself and take a stand against violence.

You—re Worth It!

To begin, recognize that you are important and worthwhile. This may sound simple, but psychologists find that poor self-esteem increases the chances of being victimized by crime. In order to take even basic steps to protect yourself, you—ve got to believe you—re entitled to safety.

When it comes to protecting yourself against violence, you certainly are worth it! God made you and loves you. And Jesus told us, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39).

The Catechism of the Catholic Church (#2264) explains that caring for yourself is not only appropriate but also fundamental. You are encouraged to insist on respect for your life and your right to it. Of course, the first one who—s got to respect your right to life is yourself. Start by examining your life-style.

Almost by definition, drugs, gangs and similar activities involve teens in crime—as the one suffering or the one causing the pain. If you want personal safety, you—ve got to remove yourself from this "equation of violence," says Tony Charles of the Cleveland Mayor—s Office on Violence Reduction and Crime Prevention. Selling drugs, for example, is a "very dangerous and short-lived life-style. Either you wind up in jail or you get hurt."

Often it—s not just a matter of saying no. You need support not only from your family, but also from friends and peers. And you need to support others too.

When you come across drugs or gangs, don—t just dismiss them as someone else—s problem. The gun you don—t report today could wind up killing someone tomorrow. The more you tolerate drugs, theft or other crimes, the less safe your world will be—for everyone.

No, you aren—t expected to become a superhero crime-fighter, flying through time and space to stomp out evil. But, when you see peace being violated through lawlessness, you can at least pass along anonymous tips to police or school officials. As Dr. Shirley McBay of the Quality Education for Minorities Network puts it, Until people begin to feel that acting on these issues is in their best interest, nothing really is going to be done about the problems we are facing.

Do something positive to help your community. Get involved in volunteer activities. It—s not just about steering clear of trouble. When you step forward to serve others in Christ—s name, you—re taking a stake in your community.

—Blessed Are the Peacemakers—

Friday night—s party was off to a great start, until students from a rival high school showed up. The intruders wanted trouble and tempers flared. West Charlotte High School student Alex Orange stepped forward to try to break the fight up peacefully, but violence erupted. Instead of leaving, one of the trespassers pulled out a gun. He shot and killed Alex.

Alex—s classmates didn—t want his death to become just another statistic. Enlisting help from Alex—s homeroom teacher, Gary Weart, they formed S.A.V.E., Students Against Violence Everywhere. Together, members promote nonviolence through education and peer mediation (helping other teens resolve arguments). Older students teach younger ones about the importance of nonviolent conflict resolution techniques. Members also get involved in gun safety programs and community service projects.

To reduce the potential for violence in your life, start by examining your own attitudes. Don—t tolerate bigoted comments. Let others know where you stand on gangs, fighting, teasing and substance abuse. Rid your vocabulary of violent phrases like "I could strangle you," "I—m going to kick your butt" or "I could have killed him."

Knowing how to act calmly under pressure, how to keep arguments from escalating, and when to walk away are skills that take practice. Become a positive role model for others as you show Christ—s love. Your local police can tell you about violence-prevention programs in your community. Or, to learn more about S.A.V.E., contact the North Carolina Center for Prevention of School Violence at 1-800-299-6054.

Street Smart

Even with your personal life in order, you still face the risk of crime. "It won—t happen to me," you may think, but the sad truth is that crime does happen. While you shouldn—t live in fear, you can and should take reasonable steps to protect yourself.

Getting dressed up with somewhere to go? Take a good look in the mirror—and not just to check how your hair looks. Will that Starter jacket, gold necklace or those designer sneakers cry out to be stolen? "The first target of prey for gang members or people in the drug culture is clothing," says Patrolman Marty Saathoff of the Cleveland Police Department—s Community Relations Unit. "They—ll go after clothing because they can sell it." Whatever you wear, keep it practical so you can move quickly if the need arises.

Avoid gang colors. In Tyler, Texas, 17-year-old Undray was shot and killed because he wore a black baseball cap favored by a local gang. Your state or local police department can give guidance. Or check out Internet resources like the Illinois State Police crime page or the Southwest Missouri Interagency Task Force on Gangs and Youth Violence. Many schools and libraries have computers that can get you into text portions of the Internet. Ask a librarian to help you use a search engine (index) such as Webcrawler— or SavvySearch—. Then have the computer search by page title or Internet address.

When you head out, let your parents know where you—re going and what you—ll be doing. And make sure you know where you—re heading by mapping out your route in advance. One wrong turn can be all it takes to put you face-to-face with a gang looking for cash or just out for trouble. Avoid "shortcuts" and blind alleys. Plan to stick to well-traveled, well-lit streets.

"Two are better than one," says Ecclesiastes 4:9. This is especially true when it comes to personal safety. Criminals are more likely to seek out solitary victims, so use the buddy system. Whenever possible, ask a friend, brother, sister or parent to join you—and be flexible about trailing along for their errands too.

Confident and Controlled

Convicted criminals confess they target people who look vulnerable and unsure of themselves. To send a "hands-off" message to would-be attackers, walk with confidence and a sense of purpose. If this sounds like a tall order, remember that you do have an important purpose. Whether you—re heading home from school, helping out at the soup kitchen or just stopping at the corner store, your goal is to serve God in everything you do.

Wherever you go, whatever you do, be alert. If you were driving a car, you—d look ahead on the road and check the rear- and side-view mirrors. Do the same thing when it comes to your personal safety. Use the senses and abilities God gave you to take care of yourself.

When you—re aware of your surroundings, you know what possible escape routes are available in case of trouble. You can make choices to protect yourself. But you can—t make these choices if that low hat brim and those stereo headphones dull your ability to see and hear what—s going on around you. Likewise, you can—t be fully alert if you—ve been drinking or using drugs.

Use common sense when it comes to cash. Carry only as much money as you—ll need at any one time. When you need to take out money for the bus or a purchase, be subtle. Don—t advertise that you—re carrying cash or a credit card. "Drawing attention to yourself increases the risk of becoming a target," warns Cleveland Patrolman Marty Saathoff.

Remember when you were little and your parents warned you about not talking to strangers? Now you aren—t so little. You naturally want to be trusting, but factor in your circumstances. When you—re alone and vulnerable you shouldn—t choose to give detailed directions or operate a time and weather service. Someone who really needs information can ask at a store, gas station or police station where people are ready and able to answer their questions.

Trust your instincts. If someone approaching you looks suspicious, duck into a store until that person passes by. If the group on the corner looks like they might start an argument, change your route to avoid them. No one keeps statistics on crimes that never happened, but avoiding a dangerous situation is your safest choice.

Help!

If you—re being followed, get away fast. Head to a store, hospital, restaurant—anywhere with people. Once you—re safe, don—t just dismiss the incident as something "creepy" you—d rather not think about. Pick up the phone and call the police so they can check it out—before the criminal finds another victim.

What if someone does threaten your safety, despite your best precautions? Rule number one is not to panic. Your goal is to get away safely, and to do that you—ve got to stay in control.

Your voice can be a powerful weapon. Shout forcefully: "Stop!" or "Let me go!" These specific commands not only attract the attention of potential rescuers, but also help you break out of the victim mode. "Call 911!" is another way to attract help. Practice in advance, so you—ll be ready if the need arises.

If the assailant still hasn—t let go, you must decide whether to resist. Physical resistance increases the likelihood of violence, so use your best judgment. Is the attacker only after money, sports equipment or clothing? "All those material things can be replaced," says Cleveland crime prevention specialist Tony Charles. "They—re not worth risking your life."

Consider fighting back, though, if your life is at stake or if you—re at risk of serious injury. (On dealing with sexual assault, see Youth Update Y0496.) Self-defense classes prepare students in advance by practice with "model" muggers. Students also learn they are not powerless to defend themselves.

Even if you haven—t taken a self-defense course yet, you should still have a plan. Sometimes a single stroke is sufficient, but be ready to follow through with another kind of jab, grab, stomp or poke if necessary. The Metro Nashville Police Department says people who use a combination of techniques to fight get away more often than victims who offer no resistance.

Don—t treat an attack like a sporting competition with rules and referees. It—s a fight for your life and you have to do whatever it takes to get away and protect yourself. Remember: Legitimate self-defense is not wrong. Where your goal is to preserve your own life, you have a right to defend yourself (Catechism of the Catholic Church, #2263-2265).

Keep in mind that the goal is to protect yourself—not to prove you—re a martial arts expert. Use full force to break away. Then run to safety and call the police. Don—t hang around for a fight you might not win. The Northbrook, Illinois, Police Department describes this tactic as "Stun-and-Run."

No, nothing can keep you totally safe. But plan in advance what to do if the unthinkable happens. You—ll improve your odds of avoiding and surviving crime.

Kathiann M. Kowalski is an attorney and author who writes frequently for families and teens. Her articles have appeared in St. Anthony Messenger, Current Health 2, Straight, Odyssey and other magazines. She is the mother of two teenagers.

 p

Not Guilty

Victims of crime not only suffer physical injuries, but they're also hurt emotionally and psychologically. Part of that hurt is often a heavy case of the The Guilts.

This issue of Youth Update offers advice on how to reduce your risk of becoming a victim, but nothing can keep you totally safe. If an attack does occur despite your efforts to protect yourself, remember you aren't to blame. Just as the man born blind wasn't born that way because of his sin or the sin of his parents (John 9:1-3), so is being victimized by crime not a result of any wrong you may have done. The fault lies with the criminal who hurt you.

If the unthinkable happens and you are victimized, report the crime to the police. Cooperate with the investigation as best you can to maximize the chances of apprehending the offender. If the criminal is caught, resolving the case in the justice sytem can seem to take ages. Instead of suffering in silence, seek support from victim-assistance programs to help you through the process.

Obviously, you should get whatever medical help you need after an attack. Get psychological counseling, too, to help you deal with the incident and get on with your life.

Whatever happens, remember that God is always there. Pray for guidance and strength. Even the bleakest times can offer opportunities to grow closer to God.

 

Katy DeLuca (14), Kari Miller (14) and Jenny Stevens (16) of Transfiguration Parish in West Milton, Ohio, met to critique this issue of Youth Update, at the request of Ruth Matthias, parish youth minister. They had lots of ideas to contribute toward building a culture of peace.

Q.

I'm willing to change my own language and choose nonviolent expressions, but what can I do about all the rough language I hear—around school, for instance?

A.

Start by telling your close friends how you feel. "I know you don't really mean that," you might say, "but those phrases make it seem like we're so used to violence that we're willing to accept it." Or, "I know you're kidding when you say that, but it's really not funny when you think about how much violence there is." Accept that you won't change your whole school overnight. But if you and your friends start to set a good example, the message just might sink in.

Q.

You mention people coming to the rescue. I've heard we shouldn't attempt that. What do you think?

A.

Use common sense. Consider the situation. Don't try to disarm someone with a gun, but don't just walk away either. At a minimum, get a call in to 911. Remember that your voice can be a powerful rescue tool, especially if you're in a group. Stay at a distance, but shout, "'Leave him alone! We see you!'" suggests Cleveland officer Marty Saathoff. "It confuses them and they'll take off usually."

Q.

How would I find a victim-assistance program?

A.

Your county social services department or local police can advise what programs are available in your area. Many school guidance counselors also know what resources exist close at hand. The local telephone directory can also steer you toward help. Look in the front of the White Pages for a listing of community services. Or check the Yellow Pages under "social service organizations."

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