The young and the reckless are wreaking havoc on Philly's streets

Posted: February 09, 2012

ON AN unseasonably warm, sun-soaked afternoon this week, a group of teenagers crowded the sidewalk along Market Street near the Gallery.

Considering recent violence in the city perpetrated by groups of juveniles, the idling teens may have led some people to cross the street to avoid a possible confrontation.

In reality, the group was waiting for an after-school program to start.

"That's not cool," said one of the teens, Ace Mullins, 16, a soft-spoken Frankford High School student. "Nobody should feel threatened."

But Mullins shrugged when he thought about recent random attacks by teens on unsuspecting victims.

"I feel where they're coming from," he said, "but I wouldn't want them to think that about me."

A spate of seemingly random and violent attacks by juveniles - including savage beatings of senior citizens and an unprovoked attack on a college student in a Center City cab - has again forced Philadelphia to look in the mirror and ask why our kids are filled with such rage.

Blaming their parents

Vietnam veteran Edward Schaefer, 64, was walking last month along 5th Street in Olney, a few blocks from his home, when a group of young thugs jumped him, pummeling him hard enough to fracture his face.

"There's information we got from a friend of those kids that [showed] the whole thing was planned. They were going to 'go f--- somebody up,' " a police supervisor with knowledge of the case told the Daily News. "It's a sad thing these a--holes picked on an elderly war veteran."

Two suspects in the case were sentenced to the maximum of four years in a juvenile detention facility yesterday.

Laurence Steinberg, a Temple University professor who studies adolescent behavior, attributed the attacks to the teens' upbringing - or lack thereof.

"Individuals who behave that way typically have been very poorly raised," he said. "Most individuals learn through the course of being socialized by their parents to control their aggressive impulses and to not hurt individuals."

Everett Gillison, the city's deputy mayor for public safety, describes the Schaefer attack as a "complete breakdown" on the part of the attackers and the job that their parents did raising them.

"While some would say I'm being hypercritical of people who are overburdened and overworked . . . we need to put the onus of responsibility squarely where it needs to be - and that's on parents," Gillison said.

Experts agree that, more often than not, violent juveniles have not only grown up surrounded by violence, but also tend to have a distinct feeling of hopelessness about the future.

"Young people today are growing up with a bitter, hopeless view of reality, especially in places where violence becomes the norm," said Chad Dion Lassiter, a race-relations professor at the University of Pennsylvania.

He blames community deterioration, and says that kids who grow up around violence tend to believe that it's just "what happens."

With massive cuts under way to city school programs and a homicide a day so far in 2012, it's hard for some city children to avoid feeling hopeless.

"Philadelphia will say, 'We're concerned about this,' but yet Philadelphia also doesn't make readily available recreation centers," Lassiter said. "Philadelphia doesn't make available jobs for some of these children's parents. These children, they pick up these narratives from these parents."

Time to stand up

Brian Goldman, 21, was in a cab stopped at a red light at a crowded Center City intersection on Jan. 28 when a group of up to 10 teens stormed the car and punched him through the window.

"At that point, I couldn't fight back, nor did I want to," he told the Daily News last month. "I was convinced these kids had a knife on them, or some weapon, so I jogged up the block."

Goldman left the scene, and the 53-year-old cab driver managed to scare the teens away with a tire iron.

"I felt very lucky immediately afterward," Goldman said. "I know it's been a lot worse for other people."

Damian Jackson, 17, an Overbrook High senior, said that some teens "do this for fun, just randomly pick and attack people."

"It's pointless," said Jackson, who plans to study engineering in college. "They're making it worse for us teenagers who are being normal."

Lassiter appealed to teens to act as "peer mediators" and engage in peer pressure against misbehavior.

"Let's say Rodney is terrorizing the community," he said. "There are 20 kids who are not terrorizing the community who can say, 'Hey, Rod, chill.' "

After another summer marked by random teen-mob violence, Gillison said that the city tried to pressure the good kids to stand up to the bad ones by putting the message out through Facebook, the city's youth commission and places teens congregate.

"We reached out to where the kids are and said to them, 'You're going to allow these knuckleheads to define who you are?' " he explained. "I would not stand for that. I would do whatever we could to send the message that this is not cool.

"I think they have to take more responsibility for sending the signal that it's better to be cool for doing positive things.

"They can't stand on the sidelines anymore. It's time to stand up and be counted."

Uriel Moody, 17, a senior at the Charter High School for Architecture and Design, agrees.

"To tell you the truth, if I could, I would stop it myself. We're about to be adults," he said. "We're more mature than that. You can't be doing stuff like this."

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