My wife and I have different perspectives on the youth violence epidemic that currently plagues our urban neighborhood. She thinks some of the miscreants could be helped by more targeted after-school programs staffed by caring adults. I think there are plenty after-school programs and, besides, the teens perpetrating the violence, often after 11 p.m., are not the sort of individuals who would attend after-school programs. I believe more extreme measures are in order.
The back-story: since early summer, packs of up to a dozen young teenagers have been accosting random middle-aged or elderly males in an attempt to knock them out with a single blow to the head. At least seven such attacks have occurred in our part of town. One elderly Vietnamese immigrant has already died as a result. Last week, the mayor of St. Louis, Francis Slay, drove up as a group of young thugs was strolling casually away after one such assault. This week, seven juveniles, mostly between the ages of 13-14, were arrested for two separate incidents. Mayor Slay said he would like to see the teens charged as adults. Speaking to reporters, the mayor said:
In my mind, this is attempted murder… You crack someone like that and walk away nonchalantly like they did when we pulled up, they have no respect for human life or their fellow human beings.
The mayor’ s words were welcomed, but it was only dumb luck that he happened to be driving by at the time of the attack. Many of us wonder if the incident would have received the same level of attention had he not witnessed the carnage first hand.
The following day a local reporter interviewed a group of students at the nearby high school, including a few who proudly admitted participating in the so-called ” knockout game.” Those interviewed said they were bored, and, besides, the attacks were fun and made them popular. As for seriously injuring someone, one teen said: “You don’t know them, so why care about hurting them?”
Spoken like a true sociopath.
Community leaders preferred to ignore the teens’ own words and rather blamed a lack of funding — funding for their own programs, naturally. James Clark, vice president of community outreach for a group called Better Family Life, had this to say:
The root of this knockout game is the lack of recreational opportunities and neighborhood-based programs for our young people… there have to be more programs for teens in high-crime areas.
It is little wonder teens are indifferent to violence when they are repeatedly assured that their vicious behavior is not their fault. Blame a lack of hula-hoops and Frisbee golf. Blame a lack of finger painting classes.
THE NOTION THAT city kids could be so bored they would be driven to kill random strangers strikes me as incredible, to say the least. It is a well-known stereotype that rural teens have little to do but drink booze on country roads and perhaps tip over cows. However, it was a surprise for me to learn that city kids were similarly bored. After all, they live in the big city. Don’ t young people move to the city for the excitement, and not because they want peace and relaxation? To paraphrase Dr. Johnson, ” If you are bored with the city, you are bored with life.”
I grew up in a small, working-class city, a place captured perfectly in the early songs of fellow hometowners Jeff Tweedy and Jay Farrar. Like most young teens, my friends and I were bored from time to time. But mostly we created our own diversions. Our free time was filled with skateboarding, sandlot football, bike riding, roller skating, hiking through nearby woods, fishing, and building go-carts, tree houses, and bicycle trails. We had newspaper routes and cut our neighbors’ grass for pocket change. We were involved in high school sports and cub scouts. I could go on and on. And we sure didn’ t have the countless free programs and recreational facilities that the city offers its residents.
If nothing else, last week’ s attacks may finally have gotten St. Louis’ s Democratic mayor’ s attention. This week he blasted the ” more-programs” mentality and called instead for more individual responsibility.
If city officials do indeed charge the teens as adults, that will likely put an end to the knockout game quicker than decades of community outreach ever could. It would send a clear message that violence is not funny and it’ s not a game. And that would be a start.
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