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Rap Stars Team with Harvard University to ‘Squash’ the Violence

May 2, 1996

BOSTON (AP) _ The camera zooms in on Grammy-winning rapper Method Man as he slams a flat hand down onto a tightly clenched fist.

``Squash it,″ he says. Walk away from violence to get respect. Stop the killing.

The new public service announcements are part of an eye-catching anti-violence campaign from an unlikely team _ rap artists, MTV and a Harvard University center that pounded the designated-driver concept into the American psyche.

Three years ago, Harvard researchers began meeting with groups of black teen-agers from Boston’s Mission Hill section, a tough neighborhood comprised mostly of public housing.

Time and again, the researchers heard the same expression from the teen-agers: ``Squash it.″

Urban youths in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, Kansas City and Miami were using the term as a signal to walk away from potential violence.

It means, ``It ain’t worth it. Let’s squash it,″ said Jay Winsten, director of the Center for Health Communication at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

With the help of the Boston teen-agers, Winsten and his staff came up with a hand signal to go along with the term. A more macho, stylized version of the ``time out″ gesture from sports, the ``squash it″ signal is formed by slamming the palm of a flat hand onto a vertical clenched fist.

Hand signals are commonly used by gangs and friends on the street, so the ``squash it″ symbol seemed natural, Winsten said.

The Harvard center, launched a decade ago to help influence changes in dangerous behaviors, then turned to the rap industry, which itself has been criticized for lyrics laden with the violence of street-gang life. A few of its artists have found themselves repeatedly in trouble with the law.

The public service ads, which began airing Saturday, were produced and edited by MTV. They feature rap artists Method Man, Coolio, KRS One and Naughty by Nature, whose lead rapper Anthony ``Treach″ Criss was recently charged with punching a teen-ager in the face and hitting him with a handgun. Criss, 25, claims he was defending himself.

``You know when someone gets in your face and you just want to smack ’em?″ Coolio asks in one ad. ``Check this out _ you don’t have to, because you have a choice. Sometimes by walking away you can prove yourself to be the bigger person. I’m not saying don’t protect yourself, just use your brain to make the best choice.

``Be the solution. Squash the anger. Squash it,″ Coolio says, as he makes the hand sign.

Harvard researchers hope the anti-violence campaign catches on the way their designated-driver media blitz did when it was introduced in 1988. At the time, drunken driving was the leading cause of death among young adults ages 15 to 24, Winsten said.

Today, a majority of Americans say they have been the sober driver or have been driven home by one. More importantly, Winsten said, drunken driving fatalities dropped by 25 percent nationally between 1988 and 1992.

The real question, however, is whether the campaign will make any difference, said James Fox, dean of the College of Criminal Justice at Northeastern University.

``When push comes to aggravated assault,″ he said, ``kids will be more influenced by their peers than by their tubes.″

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