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Out of Harm’s Way: Young people’s worries and tactics to stay safe

8th August 2011   ·   0 Comments

By Cyril Josh Baker
Contributing Writer

(Special to New America Media from New York Amsterdam News) – As we pass through the sweltering days and nights of another summer, young people continue the usual rituals of hanging out with friends at parties and outdoor events across the city on weekends and during the evening hours.

However, coupled with the pleasant idea of spending time with friends is a sense of fear that lingers for Black and Brown youth and their parents. The threat of violence is playing a role in where and how they spend their time.

News of violence at house parties and outdoor events seem to be an all-too-familiar scene in communities of color every summer. One of the most recent incidents this year is the shooting death of 27-year-old Nicholas Telemaque, who was shot in the torso after leaving a nightclub in Flatbush, Brooklyn.

Telemaque, a cousin of hip-hop superstar Nicki Minaj, was pronounced dead at Kings County Hospital. No arrests have been made in the shooting. Like many people his age, Telemaque was simply hanging out with friends, having a good time.
A similar incident recently happened in Harlem at a party on 119th Street and Lenox Avenue. A 15-year-old has been jailed on attempted murder charges after he allegedly shot another teen.

“Any given Thursday, Friday or Saturday night into Sunday, kids are [out] from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., when they are getting high and drinking,” said community activist Pastor Vernon Williams. “Parties can be fine when they are done responsibly and appropriately supervised.”

But not everyone’s intentions are positive. Williams added that kids set up a time to brawl or hold flash mobs after getting high and drinking. Using the Internet and social networking websites like Facebook and Twitter, times and locations are posted, usually with altercations scheduled for 2 a.m.

Social networks have become the source of events and more negative conflicts. On Facebook, event pages can be made to invite friends to places instead of calling people or talking to them in person. When creating an event page, teens are sometimes not careful about controlling who can attend and end up inviting non-friends to gatherings.

And Facebook has also become a place where conflicts emerge-common issues on the site include friends cheating or being cheated on and name-calling. Once these conflicts begin on Facebook and Twitter, issues go from online to violent face-to-face confrontations that can happen at social gatherings.

Harlem teen Latehsha Vargas, 18, is a typical youngster who is into basketball and shopping with her friends. But she said that when she’s hanging out she often gets concerned about her surroundings.

“One of my biggest fears is not coming back home to my family,” she told the AmNews. “If police aren’t there, people create a reason for police to come. Once you step out of your door, you hardly ever know the next possible thing that can happen to you.

“The biggest problems are gangs, drugs, guns and sex,” she said. “Time has changed. Even though there are some older generations trying to help bring respect back to the communities around the world, there are more young people who have to be the positive change instead of the negative.”

Shaquila Grizell, 18, lives in Flatbush, Brooklyn. She said that she sometimes fears hanging out at night as well. On more than one instance, she reported, a stranger has followed her halfway back to her home. Grizell said telling her mother where she is one way she stays safe.

“You just never know what’s going to happen and there are so many crazy people these days,” she said. “I always call home and tell my mom where I’m at or if it’s almost close to home I tell her to come outside and meet me at the bus stop.”

While Black and Latino high school-aged teenagers and their parents are particularly concerned about safety issues and hanging out, these concerns are not going away once these young folks hit college age. While the life of American college-age youth of all races often includes some aspect of partying and drinking, many college students of color say they are taking special precautions to stay safe.

The city has an array of bars, clubs, restaurants, piers and lounges for young adults to explore. But with all the glitz and glamor comes the negative side of the nightlife. Being a Black or Latino young adult can be especially challenging when finding a place to hang out after dusk in the city. Many confrontations between police and minority teens can result in negative situations where youth are ticketed or even detained.

“I normally stay at a friend’s house if I know we’re staying out late,” said 20-year-old Amyra Perry. “It’s not safe going home on the subway late at night-too many creeps in the train — and normally I have no money for a cab, so I stay at my friend’s house so we can go home together.”

Nineteen-year-old Aaron Dodson said that when he goes out at night, his fear is being confronted by aggressive police for no reason.

“I stay in the crib a lot because, past midnight, the cops are hawks-they stop you for no reason and the only crime is because you’re a Black man hanging out at night,” he said. “I wish I could just hang out with my friends without the hassle. Until then, I stay inside most of the time.”

NYU student 19-year-old Jeremy Accime said that he avoids traveling alone to stay safe when he’s hanging out in SoHo, Harlem and Brooklyn.

He said, “I travel in packs but I don’t hang out in big circles.”

Twenty-year-old student Kendra Hunte says she always makes sure to have a plan when she goes out at night.

Recently, Hunte and her friend were invited to a house party in Jamaica, Queens, on Hillside Avenue and 171st Street. Although Hunte was willing to go, she admits she was hesitant about going to the late-night party because of the neighborhood.

Both friends decided before that, if one wouldn’t agree to go, then neither of them would attend the party. Since they both decided to go, Hunte and her friend were dropped off at the party by her friend’s mother at 11 p.m., although it started at 9.

“We decided to get there at 11 or 12 and leave in an hour or two,” she said. Nothing serious happened to Hunte or anyone at the party that night, although police eventually shut it down for noise disturbance an hour after the young women were picked up.

If Hunte does go out with a group of peers, she always makes sure to know at least a couple of friends in the group. Even during the day, Hunte makes sure to think ahead of time, choosing to not agree with friends’ plans unless they give her up to two or three days notice.

Whenever she does make plans with friends who she knows have what she calls “unreliable tendencies,” Hunte makes plans to hang out with them during the late morning or early afternoon.

“In a group setting, I have a plan with another person who’s more reliable,” she said.

Early plans give Hunte enough time in the day to make plans to get home at a decent hour if hanging out falls through.

As far as house parties go, Hunte knows exactly how she feels about them.

“I just know I do not want to go to another house party-never again,” she said.

The tight space, hot bodies and sweat on the floor are more than Hunte can handle, prompting her to stay away from house party invites.

Police statistics do not always show the same indicators that are being expressed by many younger residents of color. According to the NYPD’s historic city crime statistics, the number of major felony offenses (murder, rape, robbery, felony assault, burglary, grand larceny and grand larceny of a motor vehicle) has dropped by nearly fifty percent over the past 10 years. And a couple of young people interviewed are not stressing much over potential dangers.

“The city isn’t too dangerous-it all depends on who you go out with,” explained 24-year-old Brooklyn resident Jorge. “I came over from the Dominican Republic four years ago and I haven’t had any issues on the street. I go out and have a few drinks-you just have to remain cool and defuse situations.”

Alphabet City resident and NYU senior Davon Barrett adds, “I really don’t even think about it. I don’t ever feel stressed or scared. If there’s a fight going on in a club, I’m just like ‘Oh, there’s a fight over there.’”

This article was originally published in the August 8, 2011 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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