With juvenile crime on the rise, community members from both sides of the Mississippi River met in two sessions Thursday to talk about a solution.
“The answers are in this room,” Davenport Mayor Frank Klipsch said to a packed room at the River Center in downtown Davenport during the Youth Community Action Summit. “It’s a matter of, we’ve got to reach out to more people that are outside of the room as well."
City and school officials, law enforcement, prosecutors, judges, service providers, non-profit agencies, clergy members, and community members and others gathered Thursday to talk about the root problems that contribute to juvenile crime in Davenport and across the Quad-Cities.
A number of stolen vehicles have been reported across the area in the last several years. Davenport alone has had more than 200 stolen since Jan. 1.
Police have said that many of the vehicles are being stolen by juveniles, some of whom use them to commit other, more serious crimes like robberies and shootings.
Klipsch announced last month that the city would hold a summit about the issue after the May 19 shooting death of Jovontia Jones, 16, of Davenport.
“One kid who tragically is killed is one too many,” Klipsch said Thursday. “But again, as we look through this in addition to these kids that become that outward really barometer of ’Oh, my gosh, what’s going on?’ there are lots of kids that are struggling. So we’ve got to deal with both ends of that continuum and every kid in the community, and we have to understand that in many cases, it’s the support as well for the family.”
During the summit, attendees first met in a single room, then met in smaller groups to discuss the issues they believe youth face in the community. Some of those issues include a lack of mentoring opportunities, lack of access to community resources, a lack of trust and poverty.
Sue Davison, director of Safer Quad-Cities, said one problem is that kids “don’t have a lot to do” and have nowhere to go to get involved in positive pro-social activities.
“For low-income individuals with families that don’t have a lot of money to get their kids involved, it’s very challenging,” she said.
In the past, kids could participate in programs right in their own neighborhood during the summer, she said.
Betsy Vanausdeln, of Churches United of the Quad-City Area, suggested starting a list of volunteer opportunities for young people during the summer. "Maybe we can spark some of these kids who have an interest," she said.
LaDrina Wilson, dean of student development at Scott Community College and facilitator of one of the small group discussions, said there is a broader concept of education that “we don’t collectively embrace,” such as a student who may benefit more from experiential learning that will help them be successful.
“It’s not who did the best on their Iowa Test of Basic Skills,” she said. “It’s that person that has dexterity to do things and fix things and build things that I can never do.”
Some possible solutions Wilson’s group discussed Thursday included more mentor-ship opportunities, connecting juveniles to existing programs in the community, outreach to parents, connecting with students and parents in the schools and considering experiential learning for students.
Maria Dickmann, Davenport 2nd Ward alderman and a former school board member, said after the summit that she believed that one issue that has contributed to the violence is a “toxic cultural expectation of finding belonging with these negative behaviors and violence and shootings and things of that nature.”
“What we need to do is focus on building a positive community where kids can identity and belong in something good,” she said.
Kids at school talk about "handling things their own way," said Troy Klaus, student success liaison at Central High School. "We don't want these kids to handle this on their own."
Students who may not be accepted at school have "street acceptance," he said.
"They don't have an adult they can count on," Sones said. "There are various reasons why a parent is not available."
Some of the parents themselves are struggling, said Linda Smithson, a teacher at Smart Intermediate School. "Parents need support."
"If we don't help the parents, we can't help the kids," said Jennifer O'Hare, counselor at West High School. "We are all accountable."
"I feel like it really is an environment we create ourselves as a community," said Kelly Decker, family involvement liaison at Jefferson Elementary School.
Klipsch said that there also are a series of generations in the community that have been struggling with issues of unemployment, a lack of education, poverty, hopelessness, “and you do what you gotta do to survive.”
“We’ve got to provide better and more holistic and reasonable alternatives to how you get by and survive,” he said.
Davenport School District Superintendent Art Tate said he hoped that Thursday’s summit will help the community “settle on some thoughts about what we can do that we’ve never talked about.”
When asked what he believed was contributing the problem, he said “I think society is changing, families are changing, our neighborhoods are changing” and that “we obviously are not reacting in the proper way” to try to combat the negative challenges facing youth.
“If we could pinpoint the problem, then we would solve it,” Tate said.
Klipsch said that discussions won’t end at the summit. He said that the city will continue to meet with community members and will “report back what we’ve heard” sometime in July.