While kids in Waianae have been regularly duking it out on a grassy knoll, the adults in their community have been busy pointing fingers.

As Noelle Fujii recently reported for Civil Beat, large groups of students from Waianae High School and Waianae Intermediate School congregate once or twice a month to fight in the Ulu Wehi residential neighborhood between the schools.

The fights are so commonplace they’re practically institutionalized. The hill where they occur is commonly known as “the ring.” And state Rep. Cedric Gates, who represents Waianae, Makaha and Makua and grew up in the area, says he became aware of the fights when he was in first grade.

Fighting among high school students is a tale as old as time, affecting nearly every corner of the United States. In a 2013 nationwide survey, about 24.7 percent of high school students reported having been in a physical fight in the previous year. Just last fall, the vice president of the United States, Joe Biden, said that if he were in high school, he would take Donald Trump “behind the gym.”

But while fighting might be inevitable during the hormonal and fragile time of high school, there is a real difference between sporadic and spontaneous outbursts and an organized, almost sanctioned habit.

Waianae’s problem has clearly crossed that line, and the adults in Fujii’s article — from the school principals to the police to the politicians — all seem to think they’ve done enough to address the situation, that the real responsibility lies elsewhere. They seem to be resigned to the “culture” as it is, a culture where students are beating the crap out of one another.

But the real problem isn’t just the physical harm these kids are inflicting on one another. Violence among students is often indicative of larger issues, such as behavioral health.

As Karen Umemoto and Katherine Irwin wrote in a Civil Beat Community Voice, “helping youth address underlying pain from trauma” can be an effective way of deterring fighting. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also notes that exposure to such violence can cause depression and anxiety among students, often leading to alcohol and drug use and even suicide.

All of which means that fighting in “the ring” can lead to more destructive ramifications for the Waianae community.

Given all that is at stake — from the physical and emotional health of our keiki to the property values of the homes nearby — there needs to be a more concerted effort to put a stop to this disturbing and harmful practice.

While everyone admits it’s a problem, no one seems to be actually addressing it.

A Honolulu Police Department spokesperson told Fujii that officers regularly patrol the area, especially before and after school hours. John Wataoka, principal of the intermediate school, says it’s only a minority of kids who fight. And Disa Hauge, principal of the high school for the past three years, insists the school’s “positive behavioral intervention system” has been effective, reducing the number of fights, but that change doesn’t happen overnight.

With all due respect to Hauge and Wataoka, with multiple fights a month attracting as many as 100 students, there is certainly reason to demand a faster rate of change. And it won’t happen if police officers stay in the comfort of their patrol cars.

With so many stakeholders involved here — two schools, the residential neighborhood and the police — no one entity can stop the fight culture on its own. It’s going to take a more holistic approach, perhaps best implemented by HPD as a community policing initiative.

As Umemoto and Irwin note, HPD can’t arrest its way out of this problem.

“Arresting and punishing youth for fighting,” they wrote, “does little to increase their capacity to resolve conflicts in beneficial and less harmful ways. … In our research, we found that teens who were arrested could become more violent as a result of their punitive experiences.”

Community policing, on the other hand, attempts to address the root causes of neighborhood crime and unrest by stressing more direct officer involvement with citizens and more effective community partnerships.

A report by the University of California, Berkeley’s law school highlights an effort in Naperville, Illinois, as an example of effective community policing. To combat an emerging gang and burglary problem in one neighborhood there, the Naperville police opened “a neighborhood service center” staffed by a mix of sworn and civilian personnel. While that center focused on crime prevention (to great success), a similar set-up in the Ulu Wehi neighborhood could focus on youth intervention.

Community policing efforts like this have proven successful not only because of the immediate results, but because the short-term costs to get started are often offset by long-term savings. Address the root problems of anger management and conflict resolution in students would likely make them less likely to turn to crime and drugs as adults.

By partnering with already active nonprofits like Adult Friends For Youth, community organizations like the Waianae Boxing Club and Gates, the schools and the police could do so much more than just reduce the number of fights. They could encourage a healthier mindset and culture for the future of Waianae.

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