Police, Parents. Pre-K: Up Against NY Gang Violence
UNIONDALE, N.Y. - Violent youth gangs attract New York's young people, and efforts to combat that involve parents, schools, community groups and law enforcement. They all put their heads together this week at Hofstra University.
Mia Zatar, executive director of the anti-gang group Strong Youth Inc., took part in the Gang and Youth Violence Prevention conference.
"We do see the major gang groups of Bloods and Crips and MS," she said, "and we have youth that are involved in that, and it also ranges to smaller cliques that look up to these bigger groups."
MS 13 is an ethnically Central American gang.
Organizers of the conference, held for 16 years, say growing participation and collaboration, especially from law enforcement, encourages them in their efforts to steer kids away from violence.
Zatar said police and prosecutors are becoming more involved.
"A lot of our kids really don't have a great relationship with law enforcement," she said, "and to see that law enforcement is trying to take on a role that is not just, 'Let's lock them up,' is definitely a step in the right direction."
Conference organizer Laura Lustbader said participants heard from experts who say the pushback against youth violence should begin in the pre-kindergarten years "because so many of the behaviors that you see that send kids to jail actually begin with lack of self-control in infancy and toddlerhood."
Lustbader said sentiment also was expressed that schools are too wrapped up in testing and test scores, at the expense of the emotional well-being of students.
"One of the panel members was a retired superintendent from Bayshore," Lustbader said, "and she specifically said, 'Rein in these tests!' We're really ignoring the well-being of our kids."
The gathering was co-sponsored by the Nassau County and Suffolk County District Attorneys' offices and Hofstra's School of Education.