Crimes spark panel discussion |

Crimes spark panel discussion

Sarah S. Chung

Editor’s note: Abiding by an Aspen Institute policy of giving participants in its seminars an assurance that they can speak freely, The Aspen Times agreed not to directly quote from Friday’s roundtable discussion on Community and Youth.

With eight young Aspen men facing charges for a spree of serious crimes, a panel of adults and youths came together Friday to wrestle with some nagging community questions: Why did it happen and how do we keep it from happening again?

Forty-some participants – including students, elected officials, teachers, police officers and citizens – walked away from the day-long discussion having reached no blinding epiphanies – but maybe that’s the point.

To ask, “How could this possibly happen in Aspen?” reflects this generally secure community’s naivet, say the young peers of the suspects arrested in connection with local armed robberies, a burglary and car theft.

The adults generally focused on the obvious theories: Social pressures created by inordinate wealth among a segment of the community; Aspen as the adult playground rather than a town that rallies around student achievements; a lack of familial networks; or a desensitization to the reality of violence.

The students, for the most part, didn’t buy it.

Maybe their peers don’t have the support of extended families and maybe there is a numbness/fantasy about guns, but maybe the suspects just weren’t thinking or didn’t think they’d get caught, students remarked.

The gulf between the teen and adult takes on the crimes was most evident when the students were asked how it was possible that no one came forward after the crimes with information to assist police in their investigation.

Most of the students said it was a matter of allegiance or loyalty before the larger, perhaps more nebulous, sense of civic duty that kept youths from tipping off police. For the peers of those arrested, there was no doubt that the suspects would never pull the trigger. It just wouldn’t happen, they said.

And, fellow youths didn’t want to be the ones sending their peers to jail, students said. Fears of being completely ostracized by the Aspen High School student body for turning a suspect in also played a factor in the silence, noted students.

At the start of the debate, the two sides were fairly entrenched. But it was finding middle ground here that seemed to forge a real commitment for those at the table to try to work together.

Students were asked to question which is a better friend – someone who doesn’t “snitch” or someone who checks a progression of behavior before it spins out of control. Were some of the suspects asking to be stopped?

The students and adults both remarked that perhaps too much was being asked of the teens. Perhaps if adults played a more active role in the lives of their kids or in the lives of the community’s youths, they wouldn’t feel so blindsided by recent events, some concluded.

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