Karen Lake drives her grandchildren to and from Holmes Elementary School every day.
“When I don’t, they get beat up,” she said.
Lake was one of 70 people who attended a meeting at the West Central Community Center Thursday night to try to find a cure for what they call an epidemic of youth violence.
The meeting was the first of a series that organizers hope will lead to a strategic plan to stop assaults of kids by other kids in their neighborhood and their schools.
Residents who attended the meeting say violence has become the way many youths solve problems.
“Kids say, ‘You took my pencil, and I’m going to knock you out,’ instead of ‘You took my pencil. Give it back,”’ said Cheryl Steele, the director of Spokane’s neighborhood police substations.
Two months ago Holmes Elementary Principal Brad Lundstrom - aggravated by the number of his students who were beating each other up - wrote parents a letter telling them there was a problem.
“What’s really scaring me is the age at which kids are becoming violent,” Lundstrom told the audience. “Today I talked to six primary kids about fights that happened in the last two days.”
That letter started COPS West volunteers, community center staff and neighborhood residents talking and resulted in Thursday’s meeting.
“We hope this will create some values, some neighborhood standards about what levels of violence and safety we’re willing to tolerate,” said Don Higgins, director of the West Central Community Center.
On Thursday, residents explored both the roots of youth violence and programs that could prevent it.
John Caputo, a communications professor at Gonzaga University, called television violence a virtual school for children in how to be mean to each other.
Residents responded by talking about a neighborhood drive to shut off the TV and a plan to show kids movies at the community center.
West Central residents and community leaders plan to meet again April 24 to begin putting ideas from Thursday’s session into action. But police officer Tim Conley warned that other neighborhoods need to begin addressing the same issues.
“This is not just a West Central problem,” Conley said. “This is a citywide problem.”