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I'm a Mother Whose Children Haven’t Been Shot...Yet.

Columnist Christine Wolf outlines just some of the lessons learned while working with others to address Evanston's struggles with Youth Violence.

Photo: Jeronimo Nisa
Photo: Jeronimo Nisa

I just received a Facebook message from someone working with a group called Leadership Evanston. Do you have 30-45 minutes to discuss what you’ve learned from your involvement in the community with the topic of Youth Violence? While I’ll do my best to make time and share my perspective, I’m oddly fixated on that 30-45 minute window -- hardly enough time to scratch the surface. Therefore, this column serves as my "working draft" -- a way to prepare for the meeting and organize my flood of thoughts (and please add yours in the comments section). 

By way of background, here are some of my previous columns on youth violence in Evanston:

A Fellow Mom Grieves For Dajae Coleman

Tiffany Rice Talks About Her First Year Without Dajae

2 Shooting Deaths in 2 Months: How Do We Move Forward?

And here is the map of shots fired in Evanston.

Who are you?

A mother whose children haven’t been shot...yet. 

What motivates you?

The need to erase the last word from that description.

What have you learned as you’ve gotten more involved with Youth Violence issues?

--That I’m sorry I only truly opened my eyes to the problem once it happened to a child who could have easily been my own.

--That candlelight vigils happen to real people in real towns with real tears. They aren’t just on the 10 o’clock news.

--That it’s more than just discussion around kids killing kids. Difficult conversations are required and often include topics like race, politics, education, blame, pride, money, education, opportunity, resentment, fear, suspicion, governance, motivation, and -- most thankfully -- hope.

--That there is far more good in the world than evil.

--That too few people understand Restorative Justice. Community members, victims and their offenders sit together to share their perspectives. It's about listening to and addressing the real issues affecting a community. The victim has a chance to be heard, the offender addresses what drove his/her actions, and the community gains perspective on the challenges requiring its attention.

--That patience, vision and strategic thinking are required, even when emotions beg for stopgap solutions.

--That I cry too often in public about this topic.

--That there are thousands of people wanting to do whatever they can to help.

--That there will always be people who hate your ideas.

--That turf wars exist not only between gangs but also between the very non-profit groups attempting to address them.

--That local politics can be just as bad – if not worse -- than TV shows.

--That the number of unsung heroes in my community is staggering.

--That social media plays two roles: uniting neighbors and promoting the problem.

--That it’s easier to criticize than to mobilize.

--That things worth doing don’t come easy.

--That young people in this world are simply amazing.

--That listening is only achieved with practice and humility.

--That every day is a chance to mend a fence and make a new friend.

--That it’s better to try and fail than to sit back and judge.

--That we need to put down our phones and talk to one another.

--That a face-to-face meeting is more work to arrange but more valuable than gold.  

--That our lives are filled with real and raw emotions, and kids need reminders that it’s normal to feel scared, furious, jealous, confused, embarrassed or ashamed.

--That intense feelings won’t last forever, and that kids often forget that…

--That it’s easier to keep going when you know that you're loved, even by one person.

 --That there’s so much work to do...


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Jordan S. Zoot March 07, 2014 at 05:36 PM
Tantor.....you are confusing two totally different subjects...Quinn's program involved Quinn which makes it a fiasco by definition. The Restorative Justice programs that she is talking about have been shown to be effective in a bunch of places...it actually sounds like something that would be helpful to Evanston. It won't deal with the current generation of thugs that have already gotten into armed violence but it will reach the next one. They need to try something, and the taxpayers deserve something better than the same old crap. This one shouldn't be lumped in with the rest of the crap.
Tantor March 07, 2014 at 11:24 PM
Let me repeat my question: Do we have any empirical studies judging the effectiveness of "Restorative Justice" programs? It would have to show that from X time in area Z when RJ programs were implemented to Y time, muggings, robberies, vandalism, graffiti, drug selling, prostitution of young girls, murders etc. have remained the same, diminished or increased. Results would have to be measured against areas ZZZ during a similar amount of time where similar crime and crime rates exist and where no such approach has been used. To say that it was "effective in a bunch of places" does not constitute a scientific empirical study of an approach to anything.
Jordan S. Zoot March 07, 2014 at 11:49 PM
I asked the same question...the point I didn't agree with was the comparison to Quinn's last fiasco.
Betsy March 08, 2014 at 04:55 PM
I am no expert, but my understanding is that the use of RJ methods in the US has not been widespread enough to allow for the amount of data collection necessary for long-term empirical studies. The use of these practices is still relatively new, and further research is necessary to develop an adequate knowledge base. That said, many of the shorter term studies are promising, and there have been any number of individual success stories of RJ, especially when applied in academic settings (see Fenger High School, Oakland, CA). When you look at countries that have employed RJ principles in the criminal arena for longer periods of time (New Zealand, for example, which mandates family conferencing in all youth criminal cases and has also broadened the application to adult cases) studies show reduction in recidivism rates. What studies here have shown pretty clearly thus far is that victim "satisfaction" rates with RJ are much higher than in the traditional system, and the perception that the issue was handled fairly is also higher. The same is true for offenders. It could be argued that when offenders experience satisfaction in the process, as well as believe in the fairness of that process, they will be less likely to reoffend. The RJ process also allows offenders to make meaningful restitution--repair the harm caused--which is not really possible in the traditional system. What empirical data does show is the failure of the traditional methods of justice, especially as they apply to persons of color. There is a crisis in our country. Many populations who could be a part of a community effort to fight crime feel targeted and marginalized. Jails are overflowing. Kids are being suspended from school too often, frequently for issues that could be dealt with restoratively. A staggering number of incarcerated people have untreated mental health issues. Clearly, the status quo is not working. We need to consider other options, and from my experience, I think restorative justice could be an important piece of a more progressive and forward-thinking approach.
Tantor March 08, 2014 at 08:27 PM
One may gather then that there are no studies showing RJ reduces crime compared to other methods because it is too recent an approach for that kind of data to be collected. The experience in other countries does not show a reduction in crime but in recidivism. Ideal would be to start collecting such data in the US in areas where it is applied to see if the approach is cost effective in reducing crime or not compared to approaches other than the present ones. If I sound skeptical is because I have seen too many "new" approaches to crime that sound great but which data eventually does not show reduce crime. It is not true that "the present approach," whatever that means, has not been modified many times. Many "new" and "innovative" approaches to reduce crime have been used in Chicago at huge monetary costs, including the "interruptors" approach, using ex gangsters. It has not reduced crime. Neither have the other ones. After all these years the number of gangsters has not been reduced and seems in fact on the way up, with 70000 gangsters in one gang alone (Vice Lords) and with school kids who have to be guarded to go from one area dominated by one set of gangsters to another area dominated by a different set of gangsters, something that was not the case twenty years ago. Ergo the situation has dramatically deteriorated. On the other hand, it is certainly worth trying the new approach in certain areas to see if this one really works. But one eventually needs data to judge the effectiveness of any new approach before throwing more money at it.

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