This January, police in Mount Vernon made arrests for three crimes involving armed teenagers. On Jan. 19, they arrested two boys from the Woodlawn area, ages 13 and 16, for a robbery that occurred on Dec. 29. On that day, according to a police report, a 16-year-old boy was walking on Central Park Circle, north of Buckman Road, when one of the teens came towards him with a gun. The victim tried to walk away, but was assaulted by a second teen. After a third suspect assaulted him, the three stole the victim’s bicycle and Ipod.
Two weeks later, on Jan. 16, according to a police report, a 47-year-old woman and her 14-year-old son were leaving a store on Richmond Highway near Sacramento Drive. Two teenagers confronted them. One was armed with a knife, the other a gun (which was later determined to be a b.b. gun). The victims complied with the robbers’ demands, and no one was injured.
The suspects were identified only days later. Each was 13. Police say they robbed the mother and son because of their ethnic background. One of the boys was charge with a hate crime.
On Jan. 23, a 16-year-old boy was robbed by another teenager he knew. The next afternoon, the victim saw the robber and confronted him. This led to a fight, and during the struggle the robber used a knife to cut the 16-year-old several times, according to a police report. He fled to a nearby business and called the police, who took him to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital to treat non-life-threatening injuries. The next day, the police arrested the assailant, who is 14, at his parents’ house. He was charged with aggravated malicious wounding and robbery.
These three crimes occurred in the weeks after seven juveniles, one as young as 12, were arrested for a series of racially motivated robberies and assaults against Hispanics. The 12-year-old boy from Hybla Valley was charged with hate crimes, and a 13-year-old girl from the same area was charged with malicious wounding and robbery.
MOUNT VERNON STATION Commander Michael Kline stressed that in every incident involving youth, arrests have been made. But he acknowledged a wider problem. “We’ve got a lot of bad kids running around here. We’ve got a group of kids that don’t have a problem with engaging in criminal activity.”
Elizabeth McNally, who supervises UCM centers in the Sacramento and Janna Lee neighborhoods, said she has heard Janna Lee residents say they worry about the people their children must pass as they walk home from the school bus stop. Residents faulted a lack of parental supervision, but said single parents working two or three jobs are unable to give their children the attention they need.
“Kids are a looking for a second family,” McNally said. “That’s a lot of the reason they get involved in a gang, because it becomes a second family.”
Kline said many of the youth who’d been arrested had committed crimes before and were out on probation. He has met with probation officers and employees of the Juvenile Court. But in addition to stepping up traditional police interventions, Kline said he is committed to encouraging a community response to the violence. He has met with county social services officials and with residents of the Janna Lee neighborhood at a community center run by United Community Ministries.
County social services, police and UCM have teamed up in an effort to establish a neighborhood watch in Janna Lee. It would be one of the first on the west side of Richmond Highway. Sarah Allen, who coordinates county social services in Mount Vernon, said nine people showed up at the first meeting in January. “From what I’ve gathered and from anyone I’ve talked to they’re all on the same page about wanting to help youth.”
AT THE SACRAMENTO Community Center down Richmond Highway, teens organized the grand opening of a new youth room last Friday. Sally Waller, the center’s director, said she wants the youth to “take ownership” of the new room. Teens are currently submitting resumes for volunteer positions like coordinator and promoter. She is hoping the teens will take ownership of the violence around them and devise creative ways to combat it, such as initiating a teen-focused neighborhood watch in close cooperation with the police.
McNally said UCM will incorporate more parenting education into its adult programs and try to engage more teens in youth programs, linking them to after-school activities, so that “kids do not have a whole lot of unsupervised time after school to become delinquent.”
“What scares me the most is that some of these crimes have taken a turn towards being hate crimes,” McNally added. “Because it’s sending a message that the folks that are unhappy are unhappy with a whole group of people, not just one person … and the issue that they’re targeting, that person can’t change that about themselves. If you’re being robbed because you’re walking down a dark street at night you can change that.”