If you read the Trib on Monday, one story may have ruined your day. At least a little.
I refer to the horrific stabbing incident in East Tacoma involving three teenage boys. One of them, Hector Hernandez-Valdez, 15, died after being stabbed at least 34 times. The other two, Luis Arroyo, also 16, and his brother Cristobal, 14, were arrested and recently charged with first degree murder for their role in Hernandez-Valdez’ death. Allegations point to a robbery gone awry.
The Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office – one of the nation’s best in my biased opinion – had the sobering task of charging 16 year old Luis Arroyo for Murder 1st degree in adult court. If found guilty, the teen could find himself in prison until his youth is little more than a memory.
And so, quite possibly, ends at least two young lives. This article is depressing enough that it makes the idea of a hiatus from informed society an appealing one. No more nightly news, no more morning newspaper, no more gory details.
I understand that rationale, believe me, but it does nothing to help address the problem of youth violence. Many young people struggle towards adulthood in a manner that can only be described as crisis management. In some cases, such as the tragic event in East Tacoma, that struggle ends very, very badly. Turning the TV off, cancelling the paper, even locking juveniles up until they are grey and old does not solve the problem for the kids who enter the criminal justice system every day.
It is ironic, isn’t it? Consider the billions of dollars spent annually on law enforcement, prosecution and incarceration – now consider the money that trickles into the programs that attempt to solve the problem of youth violence. Youth intervention and prevention programs operate on shoe string budgets and in relative anonymity. Could you name one?
I could mention several, but two recently came to my attention due to the level of support each receives from the King County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office. First is the 180 Program, a community-based partnering between community leaders in Seattle’s Rainier Valley and volunteers from the prosecutor’s office. The program identifies youth recently involved in misdemeanor offenses and gives them the option of attending a workshop in lieu of prosecution. This year alone 125 juvenile offenders were challenged and encouraged by residents and volunteers to make a 180-degree change in their lives. For some this may have been the first time an adult encouraged them to rise above the low expectations at-risk youth commonly see for themselves.
The second program may be a strange fit for inner-city kids, but the Supersonics Lacrosse program (founded by prosecutors Hugh Barber and Mark Larson) brings more than just the sport to at-risk youth. The program, offered at no cost, consists of three practice and two tutoring sessions per week. It engages kids right after school until dinner time, effectively removing them from the time frame most consistent with youth crimes. Looking back to my days as a lacrosse player (way, way back), it probably kept me out of trouble as well.
Both of these programs, and many others as well, are great examples of an individual, an organization or a community deciding to help change the future for kids who have little hope for their own. I’ll bet there are some great stories there, ones that would not dim our spirits or make our hearts shrivel.
Haven’t we seen enough of the wrong kind?