Because drive-by shootings ain’t what they used to be.
So we are a little behind the times. The important thing is that D.C. and Detroit and Dekalb got nothing on us. Not any more. Our Town has finally experienced its first drive-by shooting.
It was a tragedy, to be sure. An innocent teenager was killed in the melee. Police think he just happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, hanging out in front of the wrong house, when he should have been home hiding under his bed.
Our inaugural drive-by has been a long time coming. Crime rates have been soaring and murders are a dime a dozen, which I guess is a gangbanger’s idea of a bargain. Even so, our homicides usually involve robberies or rapes, the sort of youthful pastimes where someone is bound to get shot eventually. The whole drug gang war era drove right past us without even honking.
Obviously a lot has changed. But perhaps the biggest shift has been the revolution in the art of the drive-by shooting.
Readers may remember how a quarter of a century ago drive-bys were all the rage among drug gangs for their highly efficient manner of dealing with conflict. You’d spot a rival gangster hanging out on the street, you’d call your friends, fetch your semi-automatics and drive over and take care of a little business. It was always about business, about who got to be territory sales manager of the month. Sure, sometimes an innocent kid got in the way, but it was never personal.
These tactics were no different than the tactics of the Irish and Italian mafia. It was Prohibition gang leader Bugs Moran who gets credit for popularizing the act of driving by a rival’s hangout and spraying it with Thompson submachine gunfire. As with any war, there is bound to be some collateral damage, but even the most callous gangster would try to minimize that.
Today, however, it’s personal.
The 15-year-old who was gunned down in my hometown wasn’t a gang member. Nor was the kid who was supposed to be gunned down. So why was he targeted? Because he had offended the shooter or the shooter’s mom or maybe the shooter’s cat. Whatever the case, he had been disrespectful. For a large part of our urban street culture, being disrespectful is tantamount to a death sentence.
A recent series in the Washington Post tells how one D.C. teenager reacted when his cheap bracelet turned up missing. The 19-year-old became obsessed with avenging this show of disrespect. This set off a tit-for-tat series of drive-by shootings that resulted in five deaths. It turned out the bracelet hadn’t even been stolen.
IT HASN’T ALWAYS been thus. When I was a kid and you said something nasty about another kid you could expect a punch in the mouth. Sometimes the rivals would meet in the parking lot after school and there would be a very well attended dust-up. I’m not sure how grown-ups settled their differences — perhaps by dumping their grass clippings on the offending neighbor’s perfectly manicured lawn. It certainly wasn’t pistols at dawn, as was the habit of Southern gentlemen of a bygone era. It’s too bad we’ve abandoned the art of dueling. There was at least a degree of honor in it, and it afforded a fair fight. Men of the highest renown dueled. Andrew Jackson fought at least 13. Duels were so popular, in fact, that anti-dueling societies popped up in most Southern cities. The Civil War ended dueling and many other dubious southern practices, which was fine, until now.
Now, as part of our urban street culture, he who is dishonored or “disrespected” is expected to gun down the offending party in cold blood. The thinking — if you can call it that — goes like this: “You have insulted my masculinity, therefore I will do the cowardly thing and shoot you from a speeding car.”
Why can’t our urban teens simply challenge one another to a bout of old fashioned fisticuffs? Why is the yellow-bellied act of shooting an unarmed boy in the back of the head seen as the proud and manly thing to do? Why aren’t such people ridiculed as pansies and pantywaists — I mean, besides the obvious reason that they will shoot you if you say anything.
Obviously, I am just an old crank trying to make sense of the inscrutable ways of the youth who are Our Future. I just wish Our Future would learn the difference between a fair fight and the actions of a coward.
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