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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

Safer neighborhoods

What can be done about young men and women, mostly teenagers, who wander inner-city streets, get into trouble, and make neighborhood residents fear to leave their houses? There is no one answer, but the question deserves everyone's attention.

Paula Hicks-Hudson organized a community meeting this week in her Toledo City Council district in response to a growing feeling that crime and gang activity are rising. Ms. Hicks-Hudson was named in January to replace Michael Ashford, who was elected to the state House of Representatives last November. Next Tuesday, District 4 voters will choose among her, unendorsed Democrat Terry Shankland, and Republican Alfonso Narvaez to serve out the final year of Mr. Ashford's term on council.

Political implications aside, the meeting raised important issues and brought out many of the usual stakeholders, including representatives of the Toledo Police Department, Toledo Public Schools, community action groups, and private citizens. Missing from the meeting, however, were the youths who are perceived as the problem.

There were the usual calls for greater police presence, action on abandoned properties, more recreational activities and jobs for youths -- all necessary components of safer neighborhoods. But there also was an interesting suggestion by the meeting's moderator, Morris Jenkins. The chairman of the criminal justice and social work department at the University of Toledo offered to meet with youth gangs that operate in District 4.

Young people -- especially poor, inner-city, minority males -- become involved in crime, drugs, gang activity, and violence for many reasons. They often believe that society has failed them or, worse, works against them making something of their lives. Many stop trying even before they finish grade school.

If you want safer neighborhoods, you have to change that core belief -- one individual at a time -- and replace it with a paradigm in which the rewards of hope, honesty, and hard work are real and desirable. You can't do that unless you involve young people in the solution.

Professor Jenkins' offer acknowledges that truth. And that makes it a worthwhile avenue to pursue.

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