The increased number of violent events in traditionally safe places, such as schools and daycare centers, over the past couple of years has left many parents, teachers and law enforcement officers with one nagging question: Why? Why do students turn on their own friends or schoolmates with guns?
There is hardly a simple answer to that question, but tonight there will be a panel discussion at the Gonzaga University School of Law trying to hone in on at least part of the answer. Sponsored by the Northwest Alliance for Responsible Media, which grew out of the West Central Community Center, the panel's keynote speaker is Washington's State Attorney General Christine Gregoire.
"She led the project when the National Association of Attorneys General of the United States (NAAG) decided to take a look at courses of youth violence," says John Caputo, Ph.D. and professor of communication arts at Gonzaga, who's moderating tonight's program. "Actually, youth violence is a bit misleading. It's not youth violence, it's male teen violence, but we never talk about that. It's 99 percent of the crimes that are committed by male teens -- we need to face that fact in order to solve the problem."
Gregoire and her research partners from NAAG went on a listening tour across the country, visiting communities and talking to people trying to identify the root causes of youth violence. She's the main author of the resulting report, Bruised Inside, which she will be presenting at the panel.
"What they discovered was that teens are oftentimes walking wounded based on some of the excesses of violence that happens within our society," says Caputo. "If you ask them, they say no, there is no problem, but that's because they have become desensitized to what's going on. They don't see it, yet it still influences them."
The American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and many other national health organizations are now saying that there is a link between the entertainment media (TV, films, video games and the music industry) and youth violence.
Just recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a report saying that internal documents were discovered in the media industry that clearly laid out marketing strategies which target customers younger than 17 for movies with violent content that earn an R rating. The same report claims that movie studios have used everything from comic books to cartoons to systematically marketing violent fare to children, much like Camel cigarettes were marketed by Joe Camel.
As a result of the FTC's report, presidential candidate Al Gore has "cracked down" on Hollywood, demanding that the industry change its practices. But tonight's panel is more focused on local solutions than taking on the entire entertainment industry.
"We have invited people that are involved in the community to speak about these things," says Caputo. Among the panelists are Dr. Lynne Williams, child adolescent and family psychiatrist, Milt Rowland, assistant city attorney for the city of Spokane and Don Higgins, executive director of West Central Community Center.
& & & lt;i & The discussion is at Gonzaga University's new School of Law, 721
N. Cincinnati St. near Trent Ave., at 7:30 tonight. Call: 323-6656. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &