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High Life : A WEEKLY FORUM FOR HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS : Too Many Teens Marked for Death

August 05, 1993| Associated Press

Violence claims the lives of six teen-agers daily in the United States. To criminologists and public health officials, it's an epidemic that shows signs only of worsening.

The murder rate among those 14 to 17 has more than doubled since 1986, according to James Alan Fox, a criminologist at Northeastern University in Boston and an expert on FBI homicide statistics. In the inner city, increasing teen violence has accounted for a disproportionate share of the murder rate.

The killing is not confined to big cities, however. In Wichita, for example, nearly half of this year's murders have involved either victims or assailants 18 or younger.

Of teens who kill, slightly more than half kill a friend or acquaintance; 15% kill a family member. The remaining third choose their victims among strangers.

This grim body count is dwarfed by the number maimed and traumatized by violence. For every death, 100 are wounded, according to officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

Young males bear the brunt of this epidemic, representing 73% of the victims, Fox said. Although whites account for 53%, African-American males are five times more likely to die violently.

No matter the victim, killer and circumstance, firearms are used in three-quarters of teen homicides, a figure triple what it was in the mid-1980s.

"Our data suggests it's not necessarily that kids are fighting more, but the fights are being done with guns," said Mark Rosenberg, an epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control. "A lot of times, the only thing that differentiates the victim from the perpetrator is who shot first or straighter."

Rosenberg sees the steady rise in murdered and murdering teens as a public health crisis.

"Epidemic is precisely the right word for it," said Rosenberg. "When people think of violence and homicide, they think of someone caught in the cross fire of a robbery. But most of these homicides are not associated with a felony. They involve something else."

Especially disturbing to researchers has been the sudden burst of homicides among those 14 to 17. From 1976 to 1985, the homicide rate among these juveniles held steady. But it began to climb sharply after that, increasing 124% by 1991.

These trends portend a dark future. By 2005, the 15-to-19-year-old segment of society will have grown 23%. Within some minorities, the teen population will grow by more than two-thirds.

"We're in for a demographic double whammy," Fox said. "Not only are the teen-agers maturing into more violent young adults, but the number of teen-agers is growing."

Even if the rate of homicides suddenly levels off by then, the number of murders is likely to increase with the growth in the number of teen-agers.

"We're now seeing six teen murders a day," Fox said. "There's no telling what it will be in the future."

The Centers for Disease Control is starting programs in several cities to teach teens how to resolve conflicts without violence. The programs will emphasize after-school activities and provide adult mentors.

"We're talking about a preventable epidemic," Rosenberg said. "It is hard, but doable."

*

"While we ourselves are the living graves of murdered beasts, how can we expect any ideal conditions on this Earth?"--George Bernard Shaw

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