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
“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.
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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
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
“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
“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
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.”