On April 4, a 17-year old local boy was murdered- shot 2 times in the chest at point-blank range in an affluent, residential, suburban neighborhood. Was he killed by a police officer during the commission of a heinous crime? No. Was he armed and threatening the man who shot him? No.
This teenage boy, with his entire life ahead of him, was murdered by a homeowner in the neighborhood who was concerned that this boy and his 2 teenage companions were possibly seeking to vandalize or break into nearby cars. Seriously. Over "possible" vandalism or petty theft, a 41-year old family man thought it was worthwhile to confront these kids with a loaded handgun! When the dust cleared, a boy lay slain in the driveway of a middle-class subdivision in Western NY. His family, friends, community- devastated.
What's wrong with us? My thoughts after the jump...
Ten years ago this month, the horrible events at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, woke me up from a lifetime of complacency and self-absorption. Overnight, I became aware that I couldn't protect my (at that time) infant child from harm by living in a "nice" suburb with all the material advantages and dedicating myself solely to being a good mom.
I was, believe it or not, inspired by that tragedy in Colorado to return to college. I majored in Philosophy and minored in a combination of social sciences, psychology, and a range of other courses under the heading of "Peace Studies." I was determined to understand the sources of every kind of violence and promote alternatives for my son, his peers, and future generations.
At the end of my four years of college, I was 31, with a 5 year old son and $30K of debt. But I had the degree I wanted and I felt like I learned what I needed to learn in order to contribute positively to the future. I have since worked with young people- mostly adolescents and teenagers- teaching life and leadership skills and promoting mental health, community activism, and global understanding. It doesn't pay well but I can look myself in the mirror!
This weekend, though, when one of the teens I work with came to our City at Peace Saturday program and told me, through copious tears, that her cousin, Christopher, was the teen who had been shot to death early that morning, I was, again, shaken awake.
Though the situation had no ostensible similarities to the Columbine "massacre," as I started writing this diary, several key commonalities came to mind.
- In both cases, innocent life was lost because "justice" was administered by vigilantes acting as judge, jury, and executioner.
- In both cases, the setting was previously believed entirely "safe."
- In both cases, the amount of force applied was so disproportionate to the perceived offense committed by the victims that it shocked the entire community.
- In both cases, access to high-powered weapons by individuals with a misplaced sense of personal empowerment led to horrifying tragedy.
- In both cases, the traumatic effects on bystanders will have a long-term, negative impact on lives and communities.
There are other connections I could make- not just to these two incidents but also to the recent tragedies in Binghamton, NY; Alabama; North Carolina; Washington; California and so many other parts of our broken country- but it's late and I need to wrap up my thoughts so I can get some sleep.
I'm heartbroken for the family and friends of 17 year-old Christopher Cervini. I'm still heartbroken over the tragic loss of life in Littleton, and Binghamton, and Paducah, and Pearl, and Samson, and Fallujah, and Baghdad, and Islamabad... On and on it goes.
The point, I'm trying to make- in case it is unclear- is that the application of violence as some sort of "solution" only creates more problems. The most heartbreaking thing of all is how desensitized we've become as a culture to the toll all of this takes on our humanity. From school yard fights to global armed conflict, (aka WAR) the root of violence is the same- our misguided perception that might makes right and respect can be earned by dominating others. This is a grand fallacy and it must be countered.
Despite my heartbreak, I will still mentor troubled kids and run programs to promote social change. I will continue to teach my son, not just through my words but through my actions that a just and peaceful world is possible.
I invite you to join me. Our children deserve nothing less.