In a recent article referencing a West Baltimore “clubhouse” where young people accused of crimes were said to congregate, these young people are positioned as solely responsible for their alleged criminal behavior. In a news conference, Mayor Brandon Scott drastically oversimplified the issue and disregarded social and economic impacts driving risky behavior in youth.

The young people included in this story range in age from 12 to 17, in a stage of adolescence when decision-making is difficult. Legislative solutions referenced in the article include “expanding the crimes for which young people can be charged.” Scott said young people have to do better or they may end up like a dead child in the news from earlier in the week.

Authorities using another child’s death as a warning is insensitive enough, but such a warning does not land on the ears of young people as some might intend. Boys, especially young Black boys in Baltimore, see their peers dying so regularly, it’s a predictable end for many of them. These boys don’t need to be told yet again it’s their responsibility to dig themselves out of this life. They need compassion, patience and resources that work for them.

Additionally, we must address why these young people are getting involved with crime in the first place. Many don’t have trusted adult mentors, and they are more motivated to make a living rather than to attend school. So they end up seeking out relationships and support in risky environments.

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Positive youth development programs are what our lawmakers and other leaders should be promoting, not making it easier to arrest kids. Organizations addressing urban youth violence make an impact on the individuals and ultimately the community because they engage with and believe in the youth with whom they work. These programs offer help, not arrests.

It’s not a young person’s responsibility to do better when they haven’t been given better opportunities. It’s up to the city to provide outlets for learning, guidance and youth development.

Lillian Bocquin, Baltimore

Lillian Bocquin is a Bloomberg Fellow with the Center for Adolescent Health at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

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