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