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Section Objective

This section will highlight the demonization and scapegoating of youth as a tactic in the Right's campaign for law and order and the implementation of punitive policies in schools. It will also challenge popular anti-youth claims.

Chapter Outline

Download entire "Youth" chapter of Defending Justice (PDF, 1.3MB)


During the 1980s and 1990s, the Right repeatedly characterized youth to be more violent and less remorseful than ever. Capitalizing on the fears of older, White Americans, the Right has escalated a campaign against youth, especially urban youth of color, as the cause for social unrest. This fear is translated into increased funding for control mechanisms for youth, both on the street and in schools. One of the most consistent arguments the Right used during the mid-1990s was that even though overall crime had been declining over the past three decades, violent crime among youth had been increasing, and that the crimes which were being committed were much more heinous in comparison.

The Right, bolstered by the media, falsely predicted a wave of killer kids and stone-cold predators." The Right attributes much of this to moral poverty," which they characterize as the combination of single-parent households, the prevalence of hard drugs or alcohol in the home, verbal or physical abuse, neglect, lack of positive role models such as parents, teachers, coaches, or clergy, and parents who simply do not teach their children right from wrong. Some on the Right even consider moral poverty a larger influence on juvenile crime than socioeconomic status. Citing high divorce rates and the increasing number of children born out of wedlock, some on the Right proclaimed that America is a ticking crime bomb."

The Right further asserts that the criminal justice system does not target youth of color in a racist fashion. Rather youth of color are more prone to being morally impoverished.

Not only are our streets supposedly more unsafe, but according to many on the Right, our schools have become virtual war zones." The highly publicized school shootings of the mid 1990s escalated fear among White middle-class Americans that their children were in grave danger. This was because the mass-shootings that took place occurred in predominantly-White areas: Moses Lake, Washington (1996); Pearl, Mississippi (1997); West Paducah, Kentucky (1997); Jonesboro, Arkansas (1998); Springfield, Oregon (1998); and of course Littleton, Colorado (1999). Even though the actual chance of a student dying in school during the 1998-1999 school year was slightly less than one in two million, 71% of the population thought that a school shooting was likely" in their community.

The overwhelming response from parents and educators post-Columbine was an across the board crackdown on all deviant behavior in schools. This was not just against firearms, but also against drug and alcohol possession, dress codes, and class disruptions. Though not born in response to Columbine, zero tolerance" policies became favored by many school boards as parents and educators feared the worst.

Despite the fear-mongering of the Right during the late 1990s, reality has disproved much of their initial theories. Overall juvenile violent crime dropped during the late 1990s, and the predicted wave of super-predators" and crack babies" never materialized. Columbine was the last major school shooting, and many school districts have now realized that zero tolerance policies further criminalize students.

Chapter Contents

Pages 175-196 of Defending Justice, edited by Palak Shah

  • Role of the Right: The Myth of Crack Babies, Super-Predators and Gang-Bangers
  • Role of the State: Zero-Tolerance in Schools
    • No Child Left Behind
  • Debunking Anti-Youth Claims
  • Organizing Advice: Resisting the War on Youth, a Q&A with Inner City Struggle
  • Additional Resources



Defending Justice is a publication of Political Research Associates (PRA), an independent nonprofit research center that exposes the Right and larger oppressive movements and institutions. PRA produces research and analytic tools to inform and support progressive activism.

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