Kids, teens wrestle with crime impacts, STD figures at Great Hall

"Snitching." Reporting crime to the police. To many youth in Boston, it is the ultimate "no-no." Fearing getting hurt or killed themselves, young men and women in Boston have increasingly opted to keep silent, according to a health status report from the Boston Public Health Commission.

"We are dying out here! Someone has to do something!" one woman cried out from a large audience at Codman Square's Great Hall, where the report was delivered to the public on Monday.

BPHC director Barbara Ferrer and Mayor Thomas Menino joined dozens of youths, parents, and community leaders at the hall to offer ideas and help strategize on how to improve health in the neighborhoods. Youths tackled topics from infectious diseases to school dropouts, but "snitching" had temperatures boiling. Do it or don't was a topic of debate.

Tell, and you run the high risk of bringing danger into your own life. It's a truth emphasized by "stop snitching" t-shirts and sayings like "snitches get stitches."

Don't tell, and there is no justice for the victims and their families. That point was passionately driven home as one young woman shared the story of her brother murdered in 1994 - a case that remains unsolved.

According to a survey conducted by the Harvard Youth Violence Prevention Center in 2006, select Boston students were asked what they would do if they witnessed a crime. While 61 percent said they would call 911, 26 percent said they would do nothing. Only 4 percent said they would call a police tip-line.

"Youths and cops do not trust each other, so these kids take matters into their own hands," Ashley Deleon, 15, from BOLD Teens told the Reporter in an interview earlier this month. "We need to find ways for youths to work with police officers and other authority figures."

Many attendees agreed that education is the key to stopping the "nonsense." But schools, where most education occurs, are not always a part of a particular teenager's life.

A survey done by the the commission's research office in 2006 concluded that only 59 percent of Boston students complete high school. From 2005 to 2006 Boston had a 9 percent yearly dropout rate. In Dorchester's villages, the figures varied; 8 percent in Fields Corner, 9 percent in Uphams Corner, 10 percent in Codman Square and 11 percent in Grove Hall.

"Many kids do not go to school out of fear," said Kenya Bowden. "The problem does not only start at home, but also at schools. Youths need mentors before they get involved in all that mess, not after. Catch them before they become statistics of the streets. And until schools can provide us with some understanding we cannot feel secure about attending."

The conference also addressed other "risky behaviors" of youths such as smoking, drinking, and unsafe sexual activity. For example, in 2006 7,333 Dorchester females and 1,767 Dorchester males (ages 15-18) were diagnosed with Chlamydia according to the BPHC.

"I was really shocked at some of the stuff I learned," said Alexis Claytor, a member of BOLD Teens. "For the most part, we spoke about violence which is an issue my youth program is very active in. But when I heard the STDs spreading amongst our youths and when I heard the dropout rates, that surprised me. This report provided very important information that is relevant to our community and necessary for people to know. Our neighborhoods are ours whether we want them or not. It is up to us to decided if we want a positive atmosphere or a negative one."