Once again, there’s a heart-wrenching headline and story of another innocent child shot in a cross-fire of bullets clearly intended for someone else. Headline: Boy, 7, shot as he played outside –
“A boy playing kickball near his school in Roxbury was hit by a stray bullet last night. Police say the boy is in stable condition.” Boston Globe, July 1, 2008).
Shootings are a tragedy even when the bullets hit the intended victims in neighborhoods and towns all across the country. Most often, the perpetrators are male, young, alienated and angry, gang-members, or non-affiliated.
What if they had lived? Parade magazine had a cover story with this headline many years ago about victims. The truth of the headlines resonated for me then and stays with me now. When someone is murdered their intelligence, creativity, contribution to and participation in our world is ended. Families and neighborhoods are left to mourn. The victims belonged to somebody, as do the shooters. The negativity of the incident reverberates – sinks down into the soil of our souls and of the earth.
An acquaintance once said, facetiously, that he felt that all teens should be given shooting lessons so that they would learn how to shoot their intended victims instead of shooting wildly and hurting innocent bystanders. He makes wry comments to help himself cope with violence that doesn’t seem end. Another friend, whose house was hit by three bullets that narrowly missed her 10 year old daughter, and one of whose daughters has witnessed shooting twice just making her way home, advocates the round-up, send them somewhere else. And yet another suggests sending the young men who are so bent on violence to the War, any war, to put their propensity for violence to use. I’ve read somewhere that the armed services do not want these angry young men because they are undisciplined and therefore do not make good soldiers. Yet another friend remembers a time when judges would give “juvenile delinquents” an option – jail or the armed forces. He swears that the armed forces grew wild-boys into disciplined, productive men.
I posit education – that if a parent has an adolescent (between the ages of 13-21) who is not attending school or gainfully employed they should be sent to a program out in a rural area, where they will be taught academics, exposed to arts and cultural activities, do sweat-producing work that requires them to build, plant, and/or care for animals, and be required to participate in a gamut of physical activities. In addition to that, there should be courses in values taught. The adolescents would have to win return to their families and their families would have to win their return. Such a program would require administrators with the wisdom of Solomon.
Such programs would cost. But not having these programs cost us so much more – the loss of individual lives of brilliance or normalcy, and the impact of fear. We fear for our personal and our families’ safety, we fear people who look a certain way, are a certain gender, and are a certain age. Parents, educators, law-enforcement and social service agencies often know who the kids-in-danger of perpetuating in violence are. The indicators show up early in their lives. Let’s stop ignoring the signs and jump into action as a society.
I remember reading of a long-terms study of juvenile delinquents that said if the boys (this was who was studied) were trained, given jobs, formed a positive personal relationship with a coach, a girl, a teacher, and aged out of their hormone-crazy adolescence, they usually became productive members of society. Family and church were the conduits for much of this rehabilitation. Now that so many families are broken and church is not a factor in many of these young men’s lives – we will have to figure out another way to save our boys! But save them we must for they are a critical part of society, we need their contributions. We are less than we would be if the victims had lived and the perpetrators had found another, positive way to make their mark in the world.