Prince George’s leaders divided on youth violence solution -- Gazette.Net


Eight teen killings in Prince George’s in eight months have county officials and nonprofit leaders divided on the best way to end the “culture of youth violence.”

Some officials favor a county-led effort, while some nonprofits consider their “inside track” on the pulse of area youth as essential while other officials say a hybrid program would be the most effective measure.

The killings began at the start of the 2012-2013 school year when Kettering teen Amber Stanley, 17, was gunned down inside her bedroom Aug. 22 and most recently Lewisdale teen Meyder Bladimir Yuman, 18, was shot and killed Feb. 28.

The County Council created a work group on “crime, children and safer communities” late-February after three consecutive teen killings Feb. 18 and 19. The group — consisting of County Council members, public safety officials and social services agencies — met for the first time March 28 to seek legislative proposals that can target youth violence and crime.

A Forestville-based juvenile diversion nonprofit hopes to implement a multi-pronged program “today” that selects youth from area schools and puts them into a six-month program to deter them from delinquent acts.

“We can’t sit around and relax and wait until another tragedy happens,” said Jerrod Mustaf, a DeMatha High School and University of Maryland, College Park basketball player. Mustaf now heads Take Charge Juvenile Diversion Program, Inc.

Mustaf said he plans to identify at-risk teens and put them through a program that teaches job training, outreach, leadership, behavioral modification, financial literacy, family strength and other resources. Mustaf submitted a plan to County Executive Rushern L. Baker’s III office seeking roughly $200,000.

The programs would be held in the six Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative communities: East Riverdale/Bladensburg, Glassmanor/Oxon Hill, Hillcrest Heights/Marlow Heights, Kentland/Palmer Park, Langley Park and Suitland/Coral Hills.

TNI is a county program put forth by Baker (D) that focuses on improving six county areas that face significant economic, health, public safety and education challenges.

Andrea Harrison, County Council and work group chairwoman, said they’re looking at potentially strengthening truancy laws or changing school curriculums.

“We suffered a number of untimely, unfortunate deaths of young people here and really there was outcry not just from the community, but from us as well,” said Harrison (D-Dist. 5) of Springdale. “We’ll see what might not be working and try to move on from there.”

Other council members said tangible results must come out of the work group quickly.

“People are very wary about task forces and committees because in so many other situations these things are formed in general and nothing comes of it. One thing we’ve communicated in this effort is that’s not going to happen,” said Mel Franklin (D-Dist. 9) of Upper Marlboro.

Mustaf said it will take nonprofit organizations who have first-hand experience dealing with children to improve safety.

“You have to have your finger on the pulse. If I sit in an office all day how do I feel and know what’s going on in the community?” Mustaf said. Take Charge hosts an annual basketball camp and 16-week diversionary sessions.

Barry Stanton, the county’s deputy director of public safety, said Mustaf’s proposal is “impressive” since it targets the TNI areas, but said the county may decide just to expand or reinstate existing programs.

“We’re not going to spend county funds just to spend county funds,” he said.

Harrison said the work group will meet monthly for the next six months and have a detailed report by September.