Just Say "Squash It!"

Readings on inner-city crime prevention programs that work

One of the articles in The Ecology Of Justice (IC#38)
Originally published in Spring 1994 on page 16
Copyright (c)1994, 1997 by Context Institute

The founder of the designated driver campaign has a new life-saving message to share aimed at preventing youth violence. According to organizer Jay Winsten, Harvard School of Public Health, the "Squash It!" campaign builds on an established street phrase.

Despite the reputation for gang violence, kids involved in confrontations sometimes decide to walk away from a fight, without losing face. When two opposing groups encounter each other, they establish they are willing and able to fight through speech and body language.

The leader on one side makes a silent calculation: he doesn’t know the weapons the other side has, and he knows whoever loses is coming back tomorrow, because "what goes around, comes around." Sometimes he decides it’s not worth the fight and says, "Let’s squash it." And the two sides disengage.

The "Squash It!" campaign combines this phrase, which is already part of street talk in Boston, New York City, Chicago, Kansas City and Los Angeles, with a hand gesture. The gesture is a modification of the time-out sign from sports, with one hand forming the vertical part of the "T" with a clenched fist. The palm of the flat hand comes down hard on the fist, making a sound that proved popular with street teens, who said the gesture means "I choose to block my fist."

"Squash It!" seeks to build on a positive aspect of street life by reinforcing decisions to walk away from potentially violent confrontations.

Winsten has convinced TV networks to incorporate "Squash It!" into episodes of shows popular with teens, in hopes that it will become as familiar as the designated driver.

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