Youth Violence, Not Just a Kid Problem
Our city is again in the midst of a spate of youth violence. Shootings, stabbings and assaults are reported almost daily in the news. The Syracuse Peace Council wants to add its voice to those condemning these futile and destructive acts in our community.
Others have pointed to some of the solutions to this terrible problem:
· More opportunities for engaging and productive activities for young people in safe, supervised environments
· Increased and equitable funding for our schools, so that young people from poor neighborhoods have the same educational opportunities as those available in the suburbs
· A more active role on the part of parents
· Accountability for those who hurt others
· Involvement of faith communities
· Media and cultural support for nonviolence
We would like to add some missing components to the sources of violence among young people:
The U.S. government teaches the youth of this country (and the world) that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflict. This education takes place primarily by example, perhaps the most powerful form of teaching. When we respond to the attacks of September 11 by waging war on Afghanistan, one of the world’s poorest countries, we support the use of violence in revenge. When President Bush uses language that divides people into "good" and "evil," he supports such simplistic notions on the part of young people. When our local TV news reports daily under the caption "America Strikes Back," we support violence.
Of course Bush isn't the first President to give young people mixed messages about violence. In the aftermath of the Columbine shootings President Clinton used his most parental, preachy voice to tell young people that they "should not use violence to settle their conflicts." His speech came several months after U.S. cruise missile attacks on Sudan and Afghanistan and in the midst of the massive U.S. bombing campaign against Yugoslavia.
In addition, paying for military solutions diverts money from funding the social programs which are needed. The current level of U.S. military spending, particularly when combined with the huge tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, leaves little money to rebuild neighborhoods and provide young people with a sense of hope.
An Economic System Based on Greed and Consumption
A great deal of the violence on our streets is related to the quest for more "stuff." Young people learn, in ways both subtle and overt, that they are what they have. They see people living in luxury, seemingly unconcerned that others struggle for their next meal. They see the strong use their power to exploit the weak. Young people recognize that while some people get ahead because of their hard work and talents, others succeed due to the privilege of race, class or gender or through cheating (such as the Enron executives). Others remain trapped in situations with little opportunity to better their lives. Is it any wonder that they fight and shoot over sneakers or streetcorners?
During the recent United Nations Conference on the Rights of Children, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan eloquently apologized to young people for the violence and inequality in the world around them. If we follow his lead and look at how we train young people to be violent, we can find holistic solutions which provide a hope for the peaceful and just future we would like for our children.