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Bullet-proof Jobs: Summer Employment May Help Stem Youth Violence

3:38 am in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

A 2011 installation outside of Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church displayed 77 t-shirts, representing the 77 Chicago youth who were killed by violence during the 2010-2011 school year. (Photo by Marit & Toomas Hinnosaar via Flickr)

Originally published at In These Times

It’s conventional wisdom: Kids get into trouble when they have nothing better to do. Now, research reveals that a summer youth employment program might reduce violence, apparently bearing out the adage that “nothing stops a bullet like a job.”

A new study by researchers at the University of Chicago’s Crime Lab think tank shows that youth who participated in the city’s One Summer Plus employment program had a much better chance of avoiding arrests for violent crime than those who did not have the same opportunities.

Researchers tracked a sample of 730 youth who were selected through an open, lottery-based application process to participate in the jobs program. They ranged in age 14 to 21 and attended schools in low-income communities with high rates of violence. In the year prior to the program, they had missed an average of six weeks of school, and about one in five had been arrested. In short, they represented the youth most vulnerable to Chicago’s epidemic of gun violence, as well as to a general decline in youth employment—both problems that disproportionately affectblack teens.

The One Summer Plus teens were matched with private, nonprofit and faith-based workplaces, in entry-level, minimum-wage positions such as child care, clerical work and landscaping. The program is financed by foundation and government funding.

Researchers found that the “at-risk youth” who had engaged in the summer work “experienced a 51 percent drop in arrests for violent crime” in the seven months after the program’s conclusion when compared to a peer control group. Though researchers say more data is needed to comprehensively assess the impact on schooling and long-term development, the positive findings so far suggest that the money invested in the program (about $3,000 per youth) pays economic and social dividends down the line.

The study parallels other research showing the social benefits of teen employment, including a recent study on a similar program in Boston that linked summer jobs to “positive changes in risky, deviant, delinquent, and violent behaviors” among urban youth.

Though the University of Chicago researchers provided rare empirical insight into the benefits of youth employment, for kids like Devontae Banks, the cost-benefit analysis is more straightforward. One Summer got him a job as a peer health educator with a local HIV/AIDS prevention campaign. That summer job, which involved giving presentations to other youth on sexual health and HIV prevention, has since grown into a long-term position. He now plans to study medicine after graduating—an aspiration he would never have picked up in his old summer job, helping harvest crops at a farm in Sterling. For Banks, the real reward of the program was access to a job that was more stimulating and made him feel invested in his community, rather than just manual labor for pocket money.

“In the previous job, it was just no skill required, just all hard work,” he says. The challenge of the One Summer job was daunting at first, he recalls: “I was nervous, because I didn’t know as much as I know now about HIV and STDs. But now it’s like a walk through a park. It’s actually kind of fun.”

Researchers note that the effects of summer employment continue long after the six-to-seven-week work period, which suggests it does more for youth than just occupy idle time. University of Chicago researcher Sara Heller, one of the authors of the study, tells In These Times via email that she sees a long-term behavioral shift: Read the rest of this entry →

Guns and Drugs: We can curb gun violence by ending the War on Drugs

5:05 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

(Ollie Harridge / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Originally posted on In These Times

When a hail of bullets extinguished dozens of lives at an elementary school last month, the ugly consequences of the nation’s gun culture shot into the media spotlight. The debate around gun control in the aftermath of Newtown has yielded confused policy proposals like further militarizing schools, or preemptively tracking mentally ill people.

But a key aspect of the gun-control debate remains hiding in plain sight. There’s a major driver of gun violence in the U.S. that is neither the bloodlust of the “criminally insane” nor the weakness of public security forces. Failed gun policy is a manifestation of another, arguably more expansive, irrational policy regime: the War on Drugs.  While the most spectacular incidents of mass murder spark public panic, a more relevant, yet typically ignored, source of gun violence lies in the brutality born of the gun industry’s marriage to drug prohibition policies.

For decades, the federal government has sought to eradicate drugs despite the utter futility of the effort and the devastating social, health and economic consequences of its tactics. While Sandy Hook triggered a national convulsion of disgust, the everyday casualties of the drug war have been met with relative silence. With annual gun homicides nationwide hovering around 10,000, a significant portion can be directly or indirectly linked to drug violence, though estimates for the death toll vary widely. (A recent CDC study of gang homicides, for example, notes that over 90 percent involve guns and the portion in different cities that were drug-related ranged from under five to about 25 percent.) Other analyses of national and international data likewise suggest a range of proportions depending on how drug-related killing is defined. Whatever the exact figure, the bottom line is that the drug war’s institutionalized violence and oppression, fueled by “tough on crime” law enforcement, inflicts deep, needless social trauma on vulnerable communities. Underpinning that climate of violence are broader societal factors that also tend to be ignored in gun debates, including class and racial polarization. Read the rest of this entry →

Identifying Sikhs

4:04 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen

Image: Sikh Coalition

Originally posted at CultureStrike

The carnage that erupted over the weekend at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin is the latest stitch in a very long pattern of alienation and hostility that has befallen Sikh Americans over the past decade. Jeers and harassment, violent attacks, and hateful political rhetoric have all woven a mesh of fear and muted outrage around the country’s burgeoning Sikh community. And now, this horrific intrusion into a house of worship marks one of the most brutal violations yet of the community’s physical and psychological public space. The explanations for such a targeted and ferocious attack (which have been linked to white supremacist ideology) aren’t rational, can’t easily be boiled down to simple ignorance. But  many are delicately rethinking how cultural perception shapes attitudes toward the Other.

Democracy Now! has reported extensively on the patterns of violence and harassment against Sikhs since 9/11. Rajdeep Singh explained the history of Sikh immigration to the U.S. The political struggles of this community — entwined with anti-imperialist movements across the diaspora as well as America’s unique brand of nativist racism — long predate the most recent spate of attacks against Sikh, Muslim, Arab and South Asian communities. But Singh points to a powerful thread of historical and social consciousness that has shaped their identity:

Sikhs began to migrate to the United States at the end of the 19th century. Many of them, in fact most of them settled on the west coast and worked as farmers and laborers. In fact, there were some hate incidents. Many people aren’t aware of this but there were actually race riots in which Sikhs were targeted around the very early part of the 20 century; the early 1900s. Notwithstanding some of the bigotry and overt hostility which they faced, they built very successful careers as farmers, agriculturalists, entrepreneurs, professionals. Many people are not aware of this but Sikhs have been in this country for over a century. We are thriving in the professions that we pursue, but unfortunately and ironically, we are still facing existential challenges in the form of hate crimes and other forms of discrimination.

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Terror in Anaheim

6:06 pm in Uncategorized by Michelle Chen


Originally posted at CultureStrike, a project on immigration, art and activism

Last weekend, news cameras zoomed in on a theater in Aurora, where many moviegoers were shot down, apparently by a gunman trying to act out a crazed fantasy. While the mass killing reignited a nationwide debate on gun control, a different, but similar, tragedy unfolded not too far away in Anaheim, California. The difference was that this time, the cops did the shooting. And while the victims of the violent outbreak were also ordinary community members, unlike the Aurora residents, they had placed themselves in the line of fire by confronting a police force that works above the law.

It started when police shot an unarmed man while chasing him down an alley. The circumstances surrounding the incident remain unclear, but we know the young man’s name:  Manuel Angel Diaz, 25, pronounced dead that night at a local hospital.

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