A lack of respect for authority is often at the root of what leads young people to violent crime.
Valerie Hicks came to that conclusion through extensive research as the North Central Health District coordinator for Adolescent Health & Youth Development.
Unruly conduct is the gateway to more serious crimes for these young people, Hicks said one juvenile judge recently told her.
Defiance, talking back, running away, cursing and physical intimidation are common behaviors among youth offenders.
“You can’t confront authority figures, especially police carrying a .357. You’re not going to win. You’re going to lose,” Hicks said.
The deaths of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, prompted Hicks to present a “Parent Empowerment Session” through the Next Level Community Development Center.
The event is required for parents of those attending the center’s Camp Zion but is open to all parents, grandparents and guardians.
The “I Can’t Breathe” panel discussion will prepare parents to guide children to “survive and thrive in a culture of rules and laws.”
Adverse reaction to law enforcement can be deadly.
“I know that we have bad cops. We don’t live in a fairy tale world,” Hicks said. “We want to teach the kids to respond in a hostile, as well as a friendly environment, so you can live to file a complaint.”
The program begins at 5:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Peyton Anderson Health Education Center, Navicent Health, 877 Hemlock St. Free parking will be available in the green deck.
Panelists include: Bibb County Deputy School Superintendent of Student Affairs Ed Judie, District Attorney David Cooke, family therapist Dr. Andrea Meyer, psychologist Dr. Angela Hale and Bibb County Sheriff David Davis.
“A crucial element is the family,” Davis said. “We’re seeing second and third generations of people who have not had complete families. I think that’s why we’re having some of this disrespect for authority. It’s almost like these kids are raising themselves.”
In that vacuum, many youth turn to gangs.
“It’s basically a replacement for the family,” Davis said. They find the structure and even the discipline in those gang groups that they are probably not finding at home.”
The prevailing culture of absentee fathers exacerbates the problem, Hicks said.
“Unfortunately, 72 percent of black children are born out of wedlock. That means the father is not in the home,” she said. “When a young man is confronted by another male, he is not used to male authority and retaliates.”
Student behavior issues affect school attendance, graduation rates and how effective teachers can be in the classroom, Hicks said.
The majority of Bibb school suspensions stem from incivility instead of criminal behavior, she said.
Giving parents and guardians guidance on how to instill respect for authority could help keep more young people out of jail, Davis said.
“It’s a sad situation, and I think it takes a partnership all the way through,” he said. “By the time law enforcement gets involved, the only thing you can do is arrest them and put them in jail.”
To contact writer Liz Fabian, call 744-4303.