EDITORIAL: Youth anti-violence plans need more gun-control, school strategies

Hinkley High School students run while being fired upon by teenage boys in a nearby truck. Screen grab of school video obtained by Aurora Police.

There’s some good news coming from city hall and the State Capitol in how Aurora, Denver and much of the state are going to stop teens and young adults from killing and maiming each other with guns.

Gov. Jared Polis and lawmakers from both parties agree youth violence has become so bad, and so widespread, that the state must step in and step up with the most important thing the Legislature can offer, money.

Likewise, Denver and Aurora city councils have wisely agreed that youth violence and shootings cross those two cities’ boundaries every single day. Because of that, a nascent regional effort to better understand the problem and treat the problem has a real chance in making a difference in a crisis here, across the state and across the nation.

The plague of shootings and lawlessness among teens and young adults is astonishingly widespread, deadly, pervasive and growing.

While there have actually been some bi-partisan agreement in Aurora and at the state level, Job One for lawmakers must be to avoid and call out mistakenly blaming the problem on politics.

Violence and especially gun violence is a growing problem in cities and states run by liberals and conservatives alike.

The Aurora-Denver reorganized Youth Violence Prevention Program is taking shape in promising ways. It is moving millions of dollars into projects that seek to ensure accurate, meaningful data is collected about Aurora children and that programs addressing problems are data-based.

But the YVPP effort has two fatal flaws, regularly overlooked when addressing community problems that affect troubled kids and families: schools and guns.

Everyone agrees that much of the problem in Aurora and Denver has to do with how shockingly cheap and easy it is for kids to get guns and ammunition. So-called “ghost guns,” chat-room sales and thousands upon thousands of guns dangerously unsecured in homes with young kids and teenagers is a major part of the problem that conservative lawmakers refuse to admit or budge on, and liberals lawmakers cower from pressing acting on.

Also, state and local officials give regular lip service to how important it is for schools to be tied into programs that address youth violence and other problems, but these programs are almost always “bolt on” ideas that either involve schools only on a cursory level or plug outside programs into school spaces.

What the state and local programs overlook is that tens of thousands of school employees in the region have a front-row seat to what’s really happening in the lives of kids — every day, in real time. It’s information rarely tapped and often passed over because “experts” know better.

Aurora and Denver schools are in the thick of dealing with troubled kids. The need is great for far more resources. Schools already must provide for children who not only are imminently about to become part of a gun-violence event, but for those whose lives are so disrupted or distraught that their crises comes from far different kinds of violence — just as dangerous and sometimes just as deadly.

While Aurora Public Schools and Cherry Creek schools have stepped up to create more opportunity for kids to get the mental health care they need, it’s not nearly enough.

Schools are the perfect conduit for quality child care for families, who in the real world cannot afford it and cannot afford to stay home.

And schools are the perfect place to start conversations about a true dual-diploma system that is able to launch kids into the world at 17 with a solid, real-world education, an employable skill they like and the chance at further education when, and if, they want it.

For too many generations, millions of people have lost out from an education system that insists one size fits all, and rarely fits anyone.

As many real experts have pointed out, we cannot police or arrest our way out of this complicated and pervasive crisis. We must do more and do something different. 

Aurora and Denver efforts are good places to start, but unless schools are tied into the issue and fully funded to provide what’s needed, and until lawmakers address unlimited youth access to firearms, Aurora can expect marginal results, more injuries and more deaths.

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Don Black
Don Black
3 months ago

We must understand that there will always be a need to address this problem from as many angles as possible. I love the liberal statement that we can’t arrest our way out of the problem. That is a simple statement that is used to basically eliminate one large part of the solution. It is advanced by those with a liberal agenda and a hatred of the police. The drives to keep the evil police out of the schools and to cripple the police ability have been pretty successful. Sure, those things are not the whole answer. There are people in this world who only fear force or the stick. They don’t mind hurting others. Watch the shootings around the country. Often, not always, it is a couple of young black males shooting at each other with total disregard for anyone else. Some the recent mass shootings are just that. I have spoken with a number of gang members who have told me that if you get in the way while they are shooting, it is your fault. Little children are not their concern. They have drug and macho scores to settle.

The irony in much of his is that Aurora is steadily on the path to keep the police from preventing much of the mayhem. The foundations behind the flawed consent decree are the flawed study financed by the City, the flawed Attorney General’s report and, most importantly, the badly flawed police reform bill. The city leadership, especially former Chief Wilson, should have been standing up and pointing out the problems in each of those measures. There are massive politically popular generalizations in each as well as many outright untruths that can easily be identified. Former DA George Brauchler did a good job of pointing out the badly flawed logic behind the Attorney General’s report. The report paid for by the city has some untruths about the force used on Elijah McClain as well as much exaggerated language. All of this should have bee challenged publicly in open debate. The cowardice shown by all of our leaders has built a chain that is putting the citizens at greater risk.

Underneath the consent decree is the fact that the police must adopt the principles in the badly flawed police reform bill. This is the same bill that drove many hundreds of good officers out of law enforcement. No, they were’t all just bad eggs who wanted to be brutal or racist. No, they weren’t all just disgruntled employees who were resistant to change. What the police know is that the bill is so vaguely worded and also punitive to the point that the police can no longer do their job. I have asked attorneys and many others to tell me what the wordings on use of force mean. No one can tell me. The officers tell me that their bosses cannot explain what it means and can only read it to them The simple but clear guidelines established by the Supreme Court in Graham vs Connor are now not applicable here in Colorado. The wordings indicate that officers must use absolutely the minimum amount of force. Force is defined as any technique or tactic. What is that? Can I touch him to pat him down for a weapon before he shoots me? Can I touch him to get a degree of control before he starts to assault me our someone else? Does my long experience with dealing with violent people and my understanding of body language no longer apply? Can I not do anything before it becomes violent? The definition of the chokehold includes some wording that indicates that I may be in violation if I do anything that interferes with his breathing. That same type of wording was declared unconstitutionally vague in a New York law. Let us talk a little about that. In a struggle, I don’t want the person to be able to breathe while they are fighting me. It is common in wrestling and jujitsu to put as much weight on the opponent as possible to make breathing difficult. The idea is to get control and end the struggle. After he is handcuffed, I will ensure that he can breathe and get medical attention. In police work, it is common for officers to fall on top of the suspect in the struggle. Under the police reform bill, does that mean they will be charged? No one knows.

Let me talk a little about the chokehold. The chokehold has saved far more lives than it cost. In a recent Grand Rapids shooting, the officers shot the suspect in the head after a long struggle. He was on the suspect’s back in position to use a neck restraint (carotid or choke). That tool is no longer available. So, out of frustration and desperation, the officer kills a person. Now, two lives are ruined. I guess that is better than the long shot risk that the chokehold would have caused death. I used the chokehold on a man with a knife instead of shooting him. He was black and I guess that by popular opinion I should have been looking to kill him. He later thanked my for not shooting him and for treating him with respect. I respect him for that. Our legislature has deemed themselves experts on use of force. Let me give you an example of their expertise. A while ago, when they were looking to put curbs on the use of the chokehold, a fellow instructor contacted them and offered to help create clear guidelines. They declined any input. They then came out with a law that was supposed to limit the use of the choke. The resulting law did just the opposite. We were explaining that to an instructor from another police agency and he did not believe it. After he read it he was amazed. The law that they created made the choke legal in almost any circumstance. That former law in now outdated with the new prohibition. If you watch the news you will see many cases where citizens had to restrain suspects. You will see the chokehold used by them many times. No one is screaming that they should be charged. If you watch girls’ high school wrestling, you will see an arm around the neck on a regular basis. No one is screaming to charge my grandsons when they grab each other around the neck. But, here in Colorado, officers are being criminally charged when they put their arm around someones neck in a struggle. When things are moving fast and you have to grab someone, it is common to grab them around the neck. It is not a choke. How many lives will be lost when poorly trained officers shoot people out of desperation?

The gist of all of this is that we now expect the police to gladly put themselves at risk of prosecution and civil suit with vague uncertain guidelines on what they can do in a struggle. We expect the police to count on the good will of others in an environment where the police are demonized as racist and brutal. We expect the police to believe that they will be treated fairly instead of being used as a convenient political tool by some prosecutor. When the police have automatically been excluded from any input into the police reform bill and other actions, why would the police believe that they will be granted any respect or input? Please don’t tell me that the chiefs have had input. If the chiefs were ethical professionals instead of politicians, they would have long ago stood up and made the arguments that I am making.

My friends on the job have told me that they have been given simple guidelines by their supervisors. Since they cannot tell the officers what the police reform bill means, they have simplified everything. They have simply told the officers that they should not contact suspicious persons. Further, if someone is running out of a store with an armload of merchandise, they should simply yell that they are under arrest. When the suspect doesn’t stop, they should just let them go. By the way, is yelling at someone a use of force? Under the police reform bill, is that a technique or tactic? Most of the officers that I have spoken with simply tell me that they no longer do anything. Since the criminals quickly see that, do you think the police have any deterrent value? If an officer is going to be judged by uninformed people under vague guidelines, why would he risk using any amount of force?

It is all of those minor stops that expose people who are armed or who are involved in something more serious. We don’t want the police to make minor stops because someone might fight and get hurt. The number of officers who have been shot on traffic stops should give you an idea of what kind of people they are stopping. I guess we want those dangerous people to be able to go about their business of robbing or hurting others, God knows, we don’t want them hurt. The fact that they make the decision to run, fight, or kill should not be held against them. Look at the criminal histories of those who are killed fighting the police. Obviously, many regular people are stopped in minor violations or suspected violations. That is the price of living in a free society. I have been ticketed for speeding. I didn’t tell the officers that I am a retired police officer. Did I like gettin a ticket? No. Did I deserve it? Yes, I wasn’t paying attention. The officer was doing his job. Now, if you don’t want officers to be able to use any force to enforce the laws, then lobby the legislature to legalize all of those minor laws. Forget about registering your car, forget about loud noise, speeding, the aggressive panhandler who intimidates you, Don’t make any new laws that won’t be enforced. Since we also are not going to stop the suspicious guy who looks like he may be trying to pick up child, the police won’t be bothering anyone.

Let us look at the other part of the police reform bill that the police are supposed to accept as part of the whole package. Race has now been inserted into the equation. The police are supposed to accept that they are systematically racist and that they have to stop and arrest only on an acceptable proportionate level with the percentage of the population. So, if the black community makes up 14% of the community, you should only stop them 14% of the time. If all of the studies only showed that that 14% were only involved in 14% of the crime, that might make sense. When the studies show that that 14% are involved in a far greater percentage of the crime, it no longer makes sense. The greatest cause of death for young black males is other young black males. They are shooting up the streets and ganging up to commit robberies and mass thefts. If the police are doing their jobs, how do I make that proportionate? In a recent large black gathering in Florida, the police arrested 200 people. They confiscated 84 guns. I presume that they had to work really hard arresting a bunch of old white people to get their statistics to look proportionate. I realize that race is a sensitive issue and that there is a great deal of white guilt involved. I realize that there is racism and some of that exists in police agencies. I also realize that the police leaders who did not address those issues are the same ones who won’t stand up now to address the flaws in the police reform bill. But, now to tell the officers that they must accept the politically acceptable idea that they are racist and that they should no longer do their jobs because of the flawed statistics argument, is counter productive. In Aurora, they want the officers to knuckle under and accept lies and guidelines that keep them from being effective. If you want the officers to have any effect on the juvenile shootings, then you cannot expect them to accept the consent decree as it exists. Juveniles are involved in as much as 60% of crime. We have made the juvenile justice system a joke. Now, we don’t even want them even stopped. No. we can’t police our way out of this problem. It is a cultural problem. Allowing the consent decree and the police reform bill to take away any chance that law enforcement will help is a recipe for failure.

3 months ago
Reply to  Don Black

Don, maybe you should start a podcast? I zoned out of this deluge of verbosity about the middle of the middle of the 3rd paragraph.

If your point is that them darn liberals are responsible for the rise in crimes and violence among youth, because, you believe, they have handicapped police, then why have these problems existed long before long before the current executive, judicial, and legislative political status?

Hint: it’s the increased availability of guns and the ease with which thugs of all ages can get them.

3 months ago
Reply to  GeneD

Gene, I agree. Don gets into some pretty in- depth paragraphs. Now, the premise of increased availability as you say. These guns to be owned legally takes a little effort. The illegal market for these is the main issue. The thugs could careless whatever the rules are. How they
“thugs” get these weapons is where the focus and blame is and truly proper. So why should someone willing and qualified legally be penalized for the bad actor? That’s totally unfair, and will not fly. And that, ain’t going to fix the ‘thugs” behavior doing what thugs like to do.
And since this piece is about kids in school, are we expected to tolerate parents that are having kids and irresponsible for their own children?

Last edited 3 months ago by Dean
Don Black
Don Black
3 months ago
Reply to  GeneD

Excuse me Gene, who exactly is going to enforce anything to do with guns? Are you? If the police are not able to police, who will enforce any of the things that you are concerned about?

Joe Felice
Joe Felice
3 months ago

The proliferation of guns was bound to spill over into every segment of our society. We need to learn how these guns get from the hands of those who profess to be “responsible gun owners” into the hands of those who would use them criminally. Simply saying “They are stolen” does not answer the question.

I still say most of the problems we currently face (including this one) began much earlier in people’s lives–usually at home or in the schools. How do we effect people to be better parents or for schools to have a positive influence on kids? We do know that those who turn out well had good homes and went to good schools. How can we get back to that as a society? It seems, instead, that we are doing everything wrong these days and that everything is out of control.

We also know that all of the problems we face as society are pervasive all across the country, in every city and town. It’s not just a Denver problem or an Aurora problem, though we may like to think so simply because this is what we see on a daily basis in our cities. Firing a police chief in any city is not going to have any effect. Police chiefs are not responsible for the vast number of guns or for bad parenting and schools. Thinking otherwise simply delays a true solution.

3 months ago

In a very complex world and city, here’s my simple answer.

Parents and church should teach young ones morals, that is, what is right and wrong in our or any civilized society.

Teachers should only teach educational process and not worry about morals or policing.

Police should keep the bad guys off the streets to keep society safe. If the bad guys are youngsters and in school then so should the police be there.

Separation of duties, knowledge and responsibilities.

Don Black
Don Black
3 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE


3 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

The classroom is the opposite of simple. Teachers often have to play the role of parents and also police in their classroom or on the playground or in the cafeteria and so teachers often (thankfully) assume some of the traditional parent and police. Just try to teach without guiding youngsters about right and wrong such as honesty, sharing, working hard, respecting others, etc. And when kids do mess up and fight, steal, cheat, disrespect others, then teachers do need to enforce the rules and offer consequences that change behavior.

3 months ago
Reply to  DICK MOORE

H L Mencken said that for every complex problem there is a simple elegant solution that is wrong. Please don’t ‘should’ on me, and I won’t ‘should’ on you.

3 months ago

Excellent editorial pointing out that any solution to youth violence should include schools.

3 months ago

Always blaming the gun and never the criminal or parents of those young people. I grew up around guns and grew up in an area that probably 1/2 of the trucks in the high school parking lot had a gun rack with a loaded gun in the back window. I also took an ammunition reloading class IN junior high school. Not a single person was ever shot and/or killed there. Parens taught their children respect and to respect all life. Even those of people you didn’t like or didn’t agree with. Parents taught coping skills so that children knew how to deal with every day obsticles, trials and tribulations. As a single father I raised a son around fireams as I was. He has never shot anyone. He is a grown man now and has his own firearms. Shooting another human would never cross his mind, unless his life was in danger.
As said in a previous comment why are legal and law abiding citizens being punished for what crimals are doing?
This is a complicated issue. Sure. However, it seems one side has no interest in anything but finger pointing and saying how evil guns are. They seem to believe their way is the only way. Maybe their parents should have taught them a little more when it comes to coping skills. Instead of throwing fits and name calling when things do not go their way.
I remember a time most people could have civil converstations. Yes, at times they were heated when disagreements came up. However, there was a civil conversation. Then after that heated conversation they could get together and bbq the next weekend. Have a drink or two. Cheer on each other’s children at the football or soccer game the next weekend. They were STILL your friends and/or neighbors. They didn’t have a mental disorder, they were not sick in the head or whatever tag line you want to use merely because they saw things differently than you or their opion differed from yours. Maybe if adults started acting like adutls then our children would have some of these values that many claim to have but their actions show and prove that is not true.
We should be addressing the issue not symptoms. Typical American, we want a quick fast and easy solution. We address the symptoms of the problem and not the root of the problem. Maybe we should start looking at the root of the problem?