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Stone-Cold Predators

Christine Yount Jones

When children kill in cold blood, hope for the future dies. But in cities across America, God's people are showing how light shines in the darkest of places.

" 'God, why have you forsaken me?' is a justifiable cry of these children."

"The churches are the single most powerful potential engine of rescuing-and in many cases resurrecting-the well-being of America's most at-risk children."

After her 12-year-old neighbor was gunned down in Chicago last July 4, 61-year-old Mamie Reed captured the urban sense of hopelessness when she said to the Chicago Tribune, "He was such a precious child. Looks like the devil lives and God dies."

The statistics of youth violence are staggering. One American child is shot to death every two hours, and more than 30 kids are wounded every day. Police logged 2.7 million arrests of children under the age of 18 in 1994. And 150,000 people under 18 were arrested for violent crimes (although that's a four percent drop from the previous year). Since 1986, the chances that a child under 18 will be killed by a gun has zoomed 244 percent.

Experts say that violent kids are violent for a lifetime before they finally erupt in destruction. John Richters of the National Institute of Mental Health says only five percent of families are typically responsible for producing the perpetrators of the most violent crimes.
Only five percent.

Yet that five percent is enough to cut a wide swath of bloodshed and fear in our society. The social panaceas have done little to curb youth violence. Medication, social-skills training, and even incarceration seem to have minuscule impact on violent kids.

Policy-makers and the media have turned to one man in particular as they've sought to understand how to deal with this brutal minority-John DiIulio. Yet each time this man has spoken to the media, they've missed his main point. In this article, I hope you'll hear clearly the voice of God and the voice of hope in Professor DiIulio's words.

John DiIulio, professor of politics and public affairs at Princeton and the director of the Brookings Center for Public Management, is a man with a mission. In 1995, DiIulio referred to ultraviolent children as "superpredators" in an article in The Weekly Standard. Since then the media have run amok with the term.

"When I wrote the article in The Weekly Standard, much to my dismay that gave way to this kind of unhinged hysteria about superpredators," says DiIulio. "I think there is a lot to the superpredator problem. I think it's a real and growing problem, but everybody seemed to want to focus on the first four pages of that article and forget the last three.

"The purpose of the article was to say you cannot simply deter these kids by longer prison sentences. You have to fill churches and not jails if you really want to get a handle on the problem. You can't save them all, but there are those who can be saved-especially in our cities where these kids have now been totally forsaken. 'God, why have you forsaken me?' is a justifiable cry of these children."

The term "superpredators" refers to a small but significant growing population of youth criminals. In most cases, these children have no adult love, guidance, or supervision.

They're growing up in the most disadvantaged settings in this country-mostly urban. They are victims of child abuse and neglect. In many cases, they're encouraged to be deviant, delinquent, or criminal by adults or older teenagers.

"The term 'superpredator' was suggested to me by a lifetime inmate in a New Jersey prison. When I asked, 'Why are the kids getting worse?' he said, 'No family, no connection to teachers. These kids are stone-cold predators,' " explains DiIulio.

In October of 1994, two such superpredators, ages 11 and 12, lured Derrick Lemons, 9, and his brother Eric Morse, 5, to a 14th-floor Chicago apartment. One of the older boys dangled Eric out of a window because Eric refused to steal candy for the boys. Derrick desperately tried to pull Eric in, but one of the boys bit him on the hand. The boys dropped little Eric to his terrifying death. Derrick frantically ran down the stairs in hopes that he could "catch" his brother before he hit the ground.

The two devastating character defects that typify these violent children are a radical impulsiveness and a malignant self-centeredness.

"These kids are virtually unable to distinguish between or see any relationship between doing something and being rewarded and doing something else and being punished...," DiIulio explains. "It's like the juvenile murderers in Washington who are asked, 'What are your thoughts of where you'll be in the future?' And they ask for an explanation of the question. They don't have any conception of the future."

When kids are primarily self-centered, they have no empathy for others. "Life for them is very cheap-their own lives and other people's lives," explains DiIulio. "Combine these two things-the impulsiveness and the lack of empathy-and you've produced very young people who are capable of committing heinous crimes without any means of conscience or fear of imprisonment."

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