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September 30, 2007

Disease of Violence

by Stevi Carroll
Pasadena Star-News 9/29/07

Pasadena. The jewel of the valley. The Paris of the West. That's probably true, unless you live in northwest Pasadena.

The past few months we have seen murders on the rise in that area. Is that the development Magic Johnson hoped for when he opened his gym at Lincoln and Woodbury? I don't think so. So what are we seeing? A well-armed, ready to kill and maim cohort of people who lack empathy for others.

Bob Herbert recently wrote, "In those six years (since Sept. 11, 2001), nearly 100,000 people - an incredible number - have been murdered in the United States." Later in that same article he says, "The number of cases of aggravated assault with a firearm is about 100,000 a year. In some cases, the gunman misses, but each year roughly 60,000 people are actually shot."

Author Geoffrey Canada discusses the progression of violence in our country. He talks about the marketing of guns. In the 1980s, the adult male gun-owning population was just about glutted so manufacturers reached out to new markets: women and young people. Nancy Reagan's pearl-handled Derringer got press. Kids get messages about guns from music and music videos, TV, movies, video games and a culture that thinks the Second Amendment means every person deserves the right to have a firearm for personal protection, instead of for creating a well-regulated militia.

Why, though, are our young people killing other young people? That is our dicey question. We could blame parents. As Jacque Robinson said recently, "Parents and guardians, be strict about knowing the whereabouts of your teenager." Good idea, but I think there is so much more.

For a while we thought if only the kids had self-esteem, they'd be kinder and more engaged in learning positive things. Then we realized self-esteem comes from doing something well, and for some of these kids mayhem, destruction and murder are what they do well. And well, they feel pretty good about themselves for it, too.

Some people have said these kids need jobs to keep them off the streets and out of trouble. Good idea, but one that's not on the right track. Having a job requires self-discipline, good manners, the ability to get along with others, grooming required for the job and initiative beyond self-aggrandizement. These are not qualities many of the young people who are drawn to violence possess. These qualities can be instilled, but not if they're not given at least a modicum of validity. Youngsters learn what they see. We need to be examples of these qualities.

Of course, education also comes into the picture. I'm not completely clear on why the Pasadena Unified School District is such a hellacious place for education. I've read Jonathan Kozol's "The Shame of the Nation" about the re-segregation of America's schools and the statistics for the PUSD that reflect the white or families with means' flight from the district. But what I wonder about is, what are the kids bringing to school when they do attend?

I have to agree with Shirlee Smith. These are our children, no matter what our race or our income or our educational level. For me, I want our children taught empathy, compassion, kindness and self-control. Murders are not committed only by youngsters, but every murderer was a child once. Epidemics must be dealt with. Our epidemic of murder is a public health crisis. Just as we have mobilized to defeat polio and other diseases, we must now mobilize to make our community safe.

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