June, 24 2017
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New Jersey Residents Seek to Solve Youth Crisis
Mayor Douglas H. Palmer, along with state officials and educators, faced hard questions yesterday morning from city residents upset over what they see as a failure to adequately address problems facing at-risk youth and troubled teens.
Teens Raising Their Own Questions
The forum at the Boys & Girls Club on Centre Street focused on youth crime, delinquency and gang prevention. One question directed at Palmer by 19-year-old Tramar Parker went to the heart of how the community relates to the gangs. Parker asked why Trenton, unlike other cities, has not attempted to negotiate with them.
"Why do you push gangs away?" Parker asked.
"I'll tell you why," Palmer answered. "Gangs are criminal empires, they sell drugs, they use violence, that's why."
He said he would be perfectly willing to talk to ex-offenders who have renounced their gang ties.
Is the Cities Approach Creating more Gangs and Troubled Youth?
But it may be that very approach that feeds the gangs' growth, Parker argued.
"You all push them away, you push them towards each other, and that's what you get, violent acts," Parker said.
DeCarlo Moore, an adult city resident, said that what individuals experience in their neighborhood can drive them to seek out the protection of a street gang.
"Circumstances are recruiting people into doing things we don't want them to do," he said.
Moore also referenced what an earlier speaker had said, that basketball courts had been knocked down to make room for a park.
"The park isn't helping the youth if they don't want to go there," Moore said.
Other Factors Affecting Troubled Teens
Other forum guests expounded on circumstances such as unemployment and violence in the neighborhood affecting the decisions of young people.
"Maybe you could talk a little more to young people and see what they are experiencing," said Major Wendy Galloway of the New Jersey State Police.
"Many kids will tell you they've been forced into a gang environment," said Felix Rouse, the executive director of the Boys & Girls Club of Newark. Rouse himself was placed into foster care at age 2 and was part of the Boys & Girls Club since he was 6, as his parents turned to the organization to help him.
Reaching Out to Troubled Teens
In Trenton, the Boys & Girls Club is beginning an initiative called Gang Prevention Through Targeted Outreach, aimed at youth, between the ages of 6 and 18, deemed at high risk for gang involvement.
Through consultation with courts, police, juvenile justice agencies, schools, and other outreach efforts, young people determined to be at risk are filtered into the program. The new gang prevention effort is designed to work on a one- to-one basis, creating a mentor re lationship between children and staff professionals working at the club.
No matter what the policy or program, Palmer said the issues affecting youth are important to both city residents and those across the borders in Ewing, Hamilton, Lawrence, and Princeton.
"I think the message to me is this, and it's a simple one: We're all in this together," he said.
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