U.S. News

Violence against children unacceptable: AG Holder

Attorney General Eric Holder speaks at the International Association of Chiefs of Police 116th annual conference in Denver October 5, 2009. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

CHICAGO (Reuters) - American children are suffering an epidemic of violence and the country should not tolerate it, Attorney General Eric Holder said during a visit on Wednesday to Chicago where the beating death of a teenager has triggered outrage and frustration.

In the past year, nearly half of American children have been assaulted at least once, 60 percent have been exposed to violence directly or indirectly, and nearly one-quarter of U.S. children were victims of robbery, vandalism or theft, Holder said, quoting figures from a study released on Wednesday by the Justice Department.

“We simply cannot stand for an epidemic of violence that robs our youth of their childhood and perpetuates a cycle in which today’s victims become tomorrow’s criminals,” Holder said at a news conference with Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley.

Sixteen-year-old student Derrion Albert was killed on September 24 in an after-school confrontation between warring neighborhood groups that was captured by on an onlooker’s cellphone camera and rebroadcast around the world.

Holder committed some $500,000 to boost security at Fenger High School where Albert was a student.

Daley said federal funding was needed to expand mentoring and after-school programs to occupy children, and urged federal prosecutors to target gangs -- Chicago alone has an estimated 100,000 gang members.

U.S. crime statistics show most of the country’s 15,000 annual murders occur in cities where they are concentrated in poorer neighborhoods like the one where Albert lived. Experts say schools are relatively safe places, with the shootings that kill young people taking place off-campus.

Additional reporting by Jeremy Pelofsky, Editing by Frances Kerry