WORCESTER — A forthcoming study released every three years on youth violence in the city has concluded that incidents are down, but that racial inequities persist, prompting topic leaders and activists to call for further action.
“Communities of color are carrying a more significant trauma burden,” Laurie Ross, the Clark University professor who led the 2021 Worcester Youth Violence Assessment, said last week.
Ross has for years worked with Worcester police to study trends in youth violence using data the department regularly provides.
At a community event Dec. 15 at the Worcester Senior Center on Providence Street attended by many activists or professionals who work with at-risk kids, Ross unveiled the main findings of a study expected to be released in greater detail later this year.
According to the results, the number of people under age 25 that were a victim, witness or perpetrator of a gun or knife incident was 35.5% lower in 2020 than in 2015.
However, Black and Latinx people under 25, Ross found, were six times more likely than white people to be involved in such incidents in 2020, a disparity she said is about the same as the disparity in 2015.
“The numbers are down for everyone, but the disparity continues,” Ross said. “The question is, 'Why?’ ”
Ross and a team of graduate students attempted to provide answers in the study by asking dozens of people over age 18 — many of whom live or work in areas where crime is elevated — for their opinions.
Four main buckets of concern were identified: “Punitive policies and practices instead of problem solving;” “Lack of transparency and accountability in city decision making;” “Funding that maintains the status quo;” and “Lack of representation and lived experience among those who are in positions of power over youth.”
Interviews reveal concerns
The concerns, Ross said, sprang from interviews with dozens of people who either have lived among or worked closely with at-risk kids in the city, including 25 people she considered “key informants” for their closeness to the issues.
Ross stressed that most kids in Worcester are not involved in youth violence, and that even those who are involved in an event are much more likely to be witnesses or victims than perpetrators.
But the continued wide racial disparity, attendees at the Dec. 15 event agreed, shows the need for urgent action that involves kids themselves more than has happened in the past.
“We need to bring young people to these events,” Paul Hernandez, senior project manager at Family Health Center of Worcester, said as attendees nodded their heads.
A large crowd attended the event, including Councilor-At-Large Khrystian E. King and Mattie Castiel, the city’s Health and Human Services commissioner.
After watching a preview of a video kids at the Worcester Youth Center are putting together titled “Violence is not normal,” participants broke into four groups to discuss the four buckets of concerns that study participants suggested is driving the racial disparity.
Facilitators read and discussed quotes from those consulted for the study, many of which had a consistent theme regarding concern of people in power not looking like or fully understanding the struggles faced by people of color.
Racism occurred at schools
Ruth Rodriguez-Fay, the first school-community liaison hired for the city’s transitional bilingual education program, said she has witnessed racism in the schools both as an employee and parent.
Speaking about the topic in her breakout group, Rodriguez-Fay said that she has two children, one of whom has a much darker skin tone than the other.
She said her child with the darker skin tone was treated differently at school than the other — a difference she believes was because of their skin color.
Rodriguez-Fay echoed concerns by study participants about there not being enough people of color in leadership positions, and said too many school leaders are still unwilling to admit institutional racism exists.
Isabella Corazzini, who knocks doors for a nonprofit that seeks to engage more people of color politically, said it’s disappointing how many people say they don’t plan to vote because they don’t think it will make a difference.
Many believe the decision makers in the city, largely Italian or Irish men, make the important decisions behind closed doors, she said, leading to disengagement with the political process.
“(Transparency) is not part of the process,” one of the people quoted anonymously in the study said, raising skepticism about when decisions made by city leaders — especially on police matters — are really made.
While the City Council heard hours of comments on reducing the Police Department’s budget and about a controversial purchase of a new ShotSpotter program, the person noted, the vote went against the majority of the commenters.
Many in the study said there needs to be greater representation in city leadership by people of color, who, by virtue of their experiences, are more attuned to and invested in the solutions that will prove effective for preventing youth violence.
“One of my students lives right behind my mom’s house (near Pleasant Street), and it blew his mind to see me sitting out here,” one educator said. “You don’t see people come around here in positions like that.”
Others quoted in the study said that too much funding for youth programs goes to mainstream nonprofits, forcing smaller organizations that are often led by people of color to compete for a smaller pool of resources.
“Those working in and leading community-based organizations feel that funders do not have a deep understanding of the challenges on the ground, evidenced by expectations for outcomes in too short of a time with too few dollars invested,” the study reported.
The full study, including additional data regarding the violence statistics, is expected to be released early next year.
This article originally appeared on Telegram & Gazette: Worcester youth violence down, Clark University study finds, but racial schism persists
Source : https://news.yahoo.com/worcester-youth-violence-down-study-100036374.html1262