It takes a village to raise a child. Those words were never more true than in the need for communities to come together and ensure that their disadvantaged youth get a fair deal in life and a chance to do something other than prison time. Doing so, after all, is the foundation of crime prevention. The story of how community organizations in Washington, DC, are working together to reduce teen murders and violence and keep the city safe, as reported in the daily Afro newspaper, is worth considering this Crime Prevention Month.
The author of the article in the Afro, Tyrone Parker cites Washington Metropolitan Police Department figures that show that city is on track for its lowest number of murders in 18 years—96 so far this year as opposed to 479 in 1991. While much of this drop can be attributed to the excellent community policing skills of the Washington Metropolitan Police Department, and is partly due to the new crime fighting and crime prevention technology it is using, it is also the result, Parkers claims, of the extensive work done by community organizations to keep the peace and provide services to youth. In particular, he cites the work of his own group, the Alliance of Concerned Men (ACM), a nonprofit, community-based organization, which has facilitated peace treaties between numerous gangs both in inner Washington and throughout the metropolitan area, leading to “a geometric progression of nonviolent behavior” that has helped contribute to the low crime rate. ACM also runs programs for children and families, responds to urgent community problems, and has testified before both houses of Congress.
A network of community nonprofits in Washington also provides counseling or services related to substance abuse prevention and counseling; job readiness; summer jobs; family strengthening; cultural enrichment; life skills training; afterschool programs; college preparation; and conflict transformation, among many other programs. All help young people deal with the stress and temptations of growing up, all help families cope with the challenges of difficult lives, and all help defuse the tensions that can characterize communities that are mired in poverty and ripe for gang rivalries. In short, when the community pitches in to help its youngest and most vulnerable members, let alone its older ones, it helps itself at the same time. It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Despite the successes of ACM and other organizations like it, more people need to be reached, and much more work needs to be done. If Washington is to continue to build on the success of these groups and give every citizen a fair and equal chance to thrive, get a job, and enjoy a decent life, it will need partnerships with schools, the faith community, businesses, and all levels of government. Some of those goals are enshrined in the ten action principles of the Crime Prevention Coalition of America. Others reflect the purposes of Crime Prevention Month. All reflect smart thinking that can save lives, reduce crime, and cut the costs of policing and corrections.