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Murder and mayhem, guns and gangs

Kantrowitz, B. (1993, August 2). Wild in the streets: Murder and mayhem, guns and gangs: A teenage generation grows up dangerous and scared. Newsweek, pp. 37-45.


Charles Conrad, a 55-year crippled man, was attacked by three young men, ages 17, 15, and 14. Police say that when Conrad returned to his suburban Atlanta condominium while they were burglarizing it, the boys did what they thought they had to do. They tried to get rid of him permanently. From dusk on July 17 until dawn the next day, they stabbed him with a kitchen knife and a barbecue fork, strangled him with a rope, and hit him on the head with a hammer and the barrel of a shotgun, according to a statement by the 14 year-old boy Carlos. At one point, said Carlos, the group became hungry, so they heated up some macaroni and cheese they found in Conrad’s kitchen and washed it down with Dr. Pepper. Despite the torture, Conrad survived. According to authorities, Conrad begged the boys to shoot him, but the boys were afraid that their shots would be heard.

More and more teenagers are taking part in the most ruthless murders America has ever seen. Society is quickly giving up on these teens. Threats of punishment, education, and rehabilitation do not seem to be solving this problem. What compels these kids to be so cold-hearted?

Each day brings new horror of vicious crime by boys—and a few girls. Law enforcement and public health officials describe a virtual epidemic of youth violence in the last five years, spreading from the inner cities to the suburbs. These problems are not limited to the poor and the ghettos. Everyone knows that the Menendez brothers were millionaires and still ruthlessly killed their parents with shotguns at point blank.

Indianapolis prosecuting attorney Jeff Modisett says that "violence is becoming a way of life." Being neglected or abused by parents, witnessing violence at an early age on the street or in the home, and living in a culture that glamourized youth violence in decades of movies from "Clockwork Orange" to "Menace II Society" each clarifies the reasons that gangs thrive. Complementing these variables is the widespread availability of automatic weapons. Society has created an epidemic that no serum can heal.

Children in some areas of our country grow up seeing blood in the streets, listening to alarms in the night, and even bumping into police action in their lobbies.

If prison provides the method of social interaction, guns provide the means. "If a man threatens me, that’s the threat to my life. So I go get a gun and make sure I shoot him first before he shoots me. Even though he may not mean it," says Alexis at age 19.

Between 1987 and 1991, juvenile arrests for weapons violations increased 62%. One out of five weapon arrests in 1991 was a juvenile arrest. Black youth were arrested for weapons law violations at a rate triple that of white youth in 1991; they were victims of homicides at a rate six times higher than whites. All according to the United States justice department and the FBI.

Some social scientists argue that teenage aggression is natural. In another era, aggression might have been channeled in a socially acceptable way—into the military, or hard physical labor—options still available to linebackers and soldiers. Other researchers say that today’s teens are a new and dangerous breed.

In one of the largest longitudinal studies of violent youth, scientists followed about 4,000 youngsters in Denver, Pittsburgh, and Rochester for five years. The researchers found that 15% of the sample was responsible for 75% of violent offenses. The study noted the following risk factors: child abuse, violent environment as young children, poverty, uneducated parents, and kids raising kids for three generations.


  1. What keeps youth leaders from reaching out to high-risk youth?
  2. How can you teach this "new breed" the value of life?


  1. As youth leaders, it is easy to hide from the "new breed" of violent youth.
  2. Chances are that if you are not reaching out to gangs and you live in the city, you probably feel that these kids are unreachable.
  3. People of faith need to respond to an issue that has not yet been resolved by the other segment of our society.
  4. In order to serve kids in the hood, one must attack both individual and corporate evils.
Nick Garza cCYS