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Children Demand Answers From Senators on Crime

May 17, 1994

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The witnesses grilled the senators Tuesday. Kids from crime-ridden neighborhoods talked about the violence they have seen and demanded to know what their lawmakers were doing about it.

″How do you plan to help clean up the community from crime and violence?″ asked Terrill Turner, a 17-year-old from Washington.

The six kids ranged from age 9 to 17. Some brought along a huge poster with the names and ages of 140 children killed in Connecticut during the last five years.

There was a legislative hook for the hearing. The youngsters were participants in the type of youth programs that would receive more than $1 billion under anti-crime legislation making its way through Congress.

″Why are there not more programs for us?″ Yahaira Juan, 14, of Bridgeport, Conn., asked her senator, Christopher Dodd. The Democratic lawmaker conducted the hearing as chairman of the Senate Labor subcommittee on children, family, drugs and alcoholism.

Otis Were, 9, of Washington, the youngest witness, suggested that undercover police officers join games at playgrounds so they can learn information to ″bust″ the criminals.

Nehme Abouzeid, 17, of Weymouth, Mass., called on senators to ″rate youth violence on a scale of 1 to 10.″ Jenna Thomas, 16, of Hardeeville, S.C., asked who would delegate the money for youth programs.

And Darnell Dalton, 13, of Bridgeport, wanted to know: ″How will we make a difference by being here today?″

Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., gave the witnesses some blunt talk, telling them, ″Young people don’t vote and young people don’t have political action committees. You don’t have the same clout″ as voters and contributors, he said.

But he suggested a way that young people can put the pressure on members of Congress. They should schedule meetings on juvenile crime in their communities and insist lawmakers attend, Wellstone said. He proposed a national day of forums, similar to environmental programs on ″Earth Day.″

Dodd said local programs have been hindered by the confusion of having 266 federal youth programs scattered among several agencies.

He said that problem would be fixed by a provision in the crime bill creating an agency that would function as a one-stop clearinghouse for federal grants to local youth programs.

And he added, ″The best programs involve younger people to help shape and form the programs.″

Sen. Howard M. Metzenbaum, D-Ohio, said he would rate juvenile violence 8 or 9 on a scale of 10 if measuring Congress’ concern. But he added, ″From the standpoint of (Congress) actually doing something about it, it’s a 2 or 3. You can’t pass a law and eliminate youth violence.″

The senators also made pitches for community policing, for keeping guns from juveniles, arresting gang leaders and strengthening family relationships.

Attorney General Janet Reno, who makes a regular practice of appearing before congressional panels, insisted that she wait to testify until the youngsters finished their questions.

When her turn came, Reno said lawmakers have reached one of the ″rare moments in history″ when they can pass a bipartisan anti-crime bill that would combine prevention and punishment.

″We have an extraordinary opportunity in the next weeks to answer these young people,″ she said.

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