Wayne Fussell, 11, thinks gangs are Camden's biggest problem. Charles Watkins, 17, believes an inadequate school system hurts the city most. George Jimenez, 12, says simply that Camden has too many "hobos."
They were three of about 100 middle and high school students who gathered yesterday at the First Nazarene Baptist Church to talk about the violence and pressures that affect Camden's young people.
The antiviolence forum, hosted by the Camden Center for Youth Development, included workshops with youth leaders, who offered students a chance to discuss the challenges of growing up in Camden.
Law enforcement authorities acknowledge a surge in gang warfare in Camden since last year. The city has had 48 homicides this year - up from 42 for all of 2007 - and most have been drug-related, officials say.
Young people in Camden are prey to drug dealers, who may recruit them to act as runners or lookouts. The work leads some teenagers to use or sell drugs themselves.
Students said yesterday that many children got into trouble because their parents weren't home enough, didn't have enough money, or had drug problems.
"I think so many teenagers go through so much at home, they probably think the way to get through all their problems is by doing stuff they're not supposed to do," said Tiawynee Summers, 14, a student at Hatch Middle School.
Chaos at the schools makes staying on track harder, said Rubbie Nobles, 16. The security guards don't always care enough about their jobs, she said, and some are barely older than the students. In the classrooms, some teachers pay attention only to pupils who do well, she said.
The students also talked about possible solutions.
"We could put a cop or a guard on every corner," suggested Fussell, who goes to Morgan Village Middle School.
But Daeyshah Baines, a 17-year-old youth leader who helped guide the discussion, said Camden residents had to take an active role in quelling the violence.
"We as a community can't keep depending on the cops," she said.
Violence often erupts between people who insult each other and people who always seem ready for a fight, said Laquan Shaw, a 10th grader at Camden High School.
"All you got to do is act cool to each other," he said.
Baines offered a suggestion to students who talked about seeing fights at school.
"If you see somebody arguing, don't walk over there," she said. "They won't fight if there's nobody there to watch."