Rich Lowry, a nationally syndicated columnist, wrote recently about the Trayvon Martin case by listing the deaths of young persons, mostly from the inner cities, and mostly at the hands of other young persons. He might have used the public awareness of, and outrage over, the Martin case to shine a light on the tragic evil of young people murdering young people, possibly exploring some ways in which we, the greater public, might begin to do something about that, each in our own communities. After all, he made a valid point, we tend to disregard that kind of violence as long as it doesn’t affect the neighborhood we live in, and is generally constrained (we think) to deadly violence between gangs. A stern ‘tsk-tsk what is this world coming to’ is sufficient for most of us.
He could have. He didn’t.
He used his list as an accusation of “liberal” hypocrisy. He used his list as a political bludgeon asserting that liberals only care if a so called white person murders a black person. He used his list to, rather subtly, suggest that black adults don’t care about black teens killing black teens, and only get worked up if a white person is involved. It was cheap race baiting, perhaps not at its worst, but cheap just the same. It was just more of the wedge driving divisiveness that has become the signal emblem of our national politics.
The guy’s not stupid. He can do better, and so can we. Which brings me back to the problem he raised in the first place with his list. I don’t live in the inner city. There is not much I can say or do that will have any impact there. I live in a small city out in the inter-mountain west surrounded by mountains and high desert, wheat fields and cattle ranches, vineyards and a couple of top notch colleges. We have a gang problem. Local authorities say membership is probably around five hundred. Other teens wear imitation gang colors as a fashion statement. So far we don’t have a lot of killings, some but not a lot. We do have a lot of fights, wild shots fired here and there, nasty wounds, and the crime that goes along with it. Meth and other drugs are a troubling presence. We are not drowning it it. Our streets are still safe to walk at night. Our neighborhoods are mostly quiet. You can forget to lock your door and probably be safe from burglary. It isn’t all that bad, as long as you don’t look at what’s happening to the community at large, to five hundred gang members, to fashion conscious wannabes, to the losses, both emotional and physical, due to crime and drug use.
What we don’t want is to try to protect ourselves with self-appointed armed neighborhood watchers. But what do we want? I’m not sure. The community just completed its second annual day long series of workshops on issues related to Adverse Childhood Experiences, violence, drugs, gangs, etc. Hundreds attended, including many who wield influence and make decisions. What will come of it? We don’t know, but it’s a start that the community is aware, gathered and thinking.