Chicago’s young people aren’t a problem to solve

The citywide curfew scapegoats young people and their families. Rather than criminalizing teenagers, leaders should encourage them — and provide them with the necessary resources — to be community change agents.

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A group of around two dozen young people from around the city perform a “die in” in front of City Hall on Monday demanding better solutions for youth instead of an earlier curfew.

About two dozen young people from around the city performed a “die in” in front of City Hall earlier this month demanding better solutions for youth instead of an earlier curfew.

Tyler Pasciak LaRiviere/Sun-Times

Earlier this month, 16-year-old Seandell Holliday lost his life to a fellow teenager at Millennium Park, prompting an earlier citywide curfew for minors.

As we mourn this young Chicagoan, we must see this tragedy for what it is: a systemic failure to protect our youth.

When addressing youth violence, adults often point fingers. Questions about personal and parental responsibility assign blame while ignoring neighborhood disinvestment, structural racism and intergenerational trauma.

The citywide curfew likewise scapegoats young people and their families. The curfew’s enforcement will disproportionately affect Black and Brown kids due to racial bias in policing. Rather than criminalizing teenagers, leaders should encourage them — and provide them with the necessary resources — to be community change agents.

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Curfews are ineffective at reducing violence. Data from 2021 shows curfew citations among teens have decreased, while incidents stemming from mental health issues have increased. Forcing teenagers to isolate at home, away from peers — after missing two years of healthy social connections — exacerbates the problem.

The YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago’s Youth Safety and Violence Prevention (YSVP) initiative embraces a simple principle: Healing is prevention. By taking a trauma-informed approach that connects youth with peers, trusted grownups, mental health resources and constructive outlets, the Y has empowered hundreds of teens to become leaders.

Recently, YSVP teens attended Mayor Lori Lightfoot’s community safety town hall, asking thoughtful questions about neighborhood safety rooted in their lived experiences. The teens also met commissioners for the city’s parks, libraries and schools, and signed up for summer job opportunities.

By engaging in dialogue with officials and learning from mentors who understand them, teens can feel championed. In turn, they bring perspectives, ingenuity and energy toward creating a better future.

The Y is one of many organizations doing this work, hand in hand with teens. The foremost thing adults can do is connect youth and families to these resources, providing options rather than stripping them away.

Chicago’s young people aren’t a problem to solve. They are active agents in furthering community safety. Once our adult leaders begin treating them as such, our city can begin to heal.

Jaunita Pye, executive director, Youth Safety and Violence Prevention, YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago

Transit agencies fail to respond

Reader Charles Berg’s letter about failing government services was so spot on. I’ve had the same experience.

I’ve reported hundreds of missing signs in Chicago via 311. Some remain missing a year later. Why is that?

Other agencies are just as bad, as I have been waiting months to get a reply from the CTA president. No one answers the phone at the Cook County board president’s office or at the county’s Transportation Department.

Illinois government is the worst, as we wait for years to have its Department of Transportation install new and correct signs in Chicago. Signs along the Dan Ryan are a disaster. Some point to streets that have not existed for 90 years.

It’s 12 years and counting for IDOT to replace a sign downstate. We cannot blame COVID-19 for all this inaction.

Steven J. Bahnsen, Near South Side

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