Educators, Police Implore Students to Shun Violence

SOPHIA MAINES
Myrtle Beach Sun News
October 21, 2004

Myrtle Beach students joined other young people across the nation this week in pledging to do their part to end gun violence.

Joe McGarry Sr. traveled from Rhode Island to share the toll gun violence has had on his family’s life. His only son, Joe McGarry Jr., was shot and killed while working as a Myrtle Beach police officer just after Christmas 2002.

The 28-year-old had recently become engaged. Plans for a wedding and children died with Joe McGarry Jr., Joe McGarry Sr. told students Wednesday at Myrtle Beach Middle School.

“All that evaporates,” he said.

Educators and police said it’s critical to reach children early and to encourage them to steer clear of violence and crime.

Although national figures show crimes among juveniles declined in the 1990s, experts say that trend may be over.

“There is reason to believe that the decline has bottomed out, and [rates] are starting to increase,” said Jeffrey Butts, director of the Program on Youth Justice at The Urban Institute.

There has not been a significant rise in problems in Myrtle Beach area schools, but officials said they must continue to educate students about the dangers of making bad decisions.

There have been 15 cases of weapons possession in Horry County schools since the start of the school year. Numbers comparing this year with past years weren’t available Wednesday.

Pfc. Todd Steward, the school resource officer at Myrtle Beach High School, said he has not seen a student bring a gun to school since he started two years ago.

He said a student brought a knife to a pep rally recently. This came to the attention of authorities, and the student was disarmed. It was the first incident involving a weapon at Myrtle Beach High this school year, he said.

Many schools, including elementary schools, have embraced the presence of resource officers to cut down on discipline problems and keep schools safe.

Michael Cafaro, principal of Georgetown High School in Georgetown County, said he looks back on the years before school resource officers in amazement.

“When I look back and reflect on some of the situations I was personally involved in, I really don’t know how I survived all of them,” he said. “They make a big difference in two ways. They make the students and staff feel secure, and they act as a buffer between the schools and the street.”

Nationally, arrests of kids ages 10-17 in 2002 were the lowest since 1987, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of Justice Programs.

Butts said that, in general, rates increased in the 1980s and peaked in the early 1990s before declining.

He points to multiple factors for the decline. An improved economy made it more likely for people on the margins to seek jobs and opportunity instead of resorting to crimes. He also points to the big-brother effect of young people taking a more positive path after seeing the effects of violence and crime on their elders.

“We lock up so many more people in this country than we did 20 years ago,” he said. “That’s bound to have an effect.”

Joe McGarry Sr. pressed students to stay away from guns and violence.

“Who are these people with guns?” he asked. “Are these the people who are leaders? These people are losers who run around with guns.”

At least one student got the message. “They need to stop making guns,” said 12-year-old Mark Timmons, a Myrtle Beach Middle School student.

_____________________________________
Myrtle Beach Sun News