Task force targets RI youth violence

Contributing Writer
Tuesday, February 28, 2012


A task force designed to find solutions for youth violence in Providence met for the first time Feb. 13 at the West End Community Center in Providence. The task force, appointed in January and composed of seven state senators, hopes to pinpoint problems regarding youth violence in the area and propose legislative solutions after listening to feedback from Rhode Island youth and community members, said state Sen. Juan Pichardo, D-Providence, who also chairs the committee. 

“Shootings and deaths in young people have been two or three blocks from where I live,” Pichardo said. “Last year, we lost a 14-year-old in Providence due to gun violence in his own home.” 

Pichardo said he wanted to use these meetings to take the issue “out of the State House” and ensure that the voices of the community are heard. Three additional meetings will take place around Rhode Island in the coming months, with the next one slated for early March in the Pawtucket area. The task force will issue a report on their findings after the four meetings, along with recommended solutions to encountered problems.

The first meeting included presentations by the advocacy organizations Kids Count and Young Voices and addressed possible solutions for youth violence, including giving young people more access to after-school programs, keeping community centers open later into the night, increasing involvement from parents and establishing a crime watch, Pichardo said. 

According to the Kids Count presentation, the incidence of youth violence in Providence is actually decreasing. There has not been “any rise in violence” in the public school system, said Christina O’Reilly, director of communications at Providence Public Schools. 

But she added that “outside violence does affect our students,” whether directly or through rumors and intimidation. As a way to combat violence in school, the district has measures in place that are consistent with some of the suggestions given at the task force meeting, she said. The current policy on bullying focuses on finding ways to “mediate the problem” and “get to the root of it,” instead of transferring bullied children to different schools, O’Reilly said. There are also Providence police officers assigned to the schools, who keep office hours, interact with students and generally serve as role models and mediators.

Despite such measures, Pichardo said youth violence remains a major issue across the city and called on young people to take an interest in activism against youth violence. 

There are “too many deaths in young people,” he said. “Even if it’s one, it’s too many.”

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