Acting Against Violence

EDDIE POLEC died last November after being beaten by teenagers from another suburb of Philadelphia. The teenager's murder stirred national attention because, despite 10 telephone calls to 911, the police did not arrive for more than 40 minutes. Otherwise, his story sounds too familiar - part of a disturbing trend in which American children are dying or killing for what seem senseless reasons.

After Eddie's death, the Philadephia Inquirer invited students from the area to write about their experiences, feelings, and ideas regarding youth-on-youth violence. More than 1,500 responded with poignant, painful, startling essays. Some of the most eloquent are published in a reprint: ``Young Voices on Violence.''

``Fear pervades these essays,'' the editors say. ``It is often, too often, based on experience ... but often these youngsters express deep fear even though their schools, homes, and streets are enclaves of security.''

They are frightened by the lack of safety, but also, apparently, by what they perceive as adult inattention to the needs of children and the causes of the violence. They want adults to listen. They want them to act. Some say they have already given up. But others point to themselves and to each of us with the challenge ``to make a difference.'' Their words make it clear that appropriate punishment is necessary, but that it is not ``the solution.''

Last week one effort ``to make a difference'' was launched by Bill Moyers and the Public Broadcasting System with two nights of programming on ``What We Can Do About Violence'' and a third, ``Does TV Kill?,'' on the documentary series ``Frontline.''

The programs are part of a two-year project called ``Act Against Violence,'' a coalition of PBS, cable and network TV broadcasters, foundations, corporations, national youth organizations, and community groups.

The coalition offers a community resource guide for reducing violence; tomorrow, public TV stations will air a call-in show. The coalition also will produce youth and adult curricula, training programs, and town meetings, and will showcase successful prevention programs.

Last week's programs were another moving collection of youth and adult voices. Young convicted murderers, former gang members, and other offenders described why they acted as they did. In several cases, they told what has been responsible for turning them around.

Many had never learned to put themselves in other people's shoes. Their experiences indicate that what is needed are changes that individuals and families (and schools and community groups) can make, day by day. In many instances, adults must change their focus and values.

In the words of various youths:

* ``Raise your kids, rather than let your kids raise you; know where your kids are at all times.''

* ``Listen to your son (or daughter) when they are in trouble so they won't turn to a gang as family.''

* ``The media have to stop making violence look glamorous and making teens think it is a form of entertainment.''

* ``Watching violence is condoning it.''

* ``TV should not present violence as commonplace in the home, and women cannot be portrayed as weak objects anymore.'' (This from a young boy.)

* ``Don't denigrate the young generation, but set them a good example.''

* ``Why are Americans so fascinated with violence? It is pumped into us at a young age.''

* ``Why are guns so accessible? Take them away at schools; teenagers should not have to pray every night that they die in their sleep just so they will not have to face bullies who threaten them at school.''

* ``Maybe if you had more places for us to go, more things for us to do, we wouldn't spend our spare time on the corner shooting people for no apparent reason.''

* ``We must change the values of our society - we are so desensitized that when we hear of one kid killing another we flip the channel or turn to the comic section.''

* ``Attention! This is a war for which everyone is drafted. There is only one person who can make a difference - YOU!''

What every youth needs and deserves are caring, attentive adults and experiences - and a culture - that teach them that they are worthwhile. Too many have absent or busy parents whose influence weighs mightily less than that of TV and a violence-prone culture. Too often they have no place to go for constructive activities.

Kids want something different. They want freedom from fear; they want adults to take the necessary steps to help them change the culture.

Given the urgency and extent of the situation, all adults - not just parents - must help. They need to embrace all young people in their prayers and look for active ways in which to make a difference.

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