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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

What's Your Problem?

So Monday I posted an entry about the recent rash of youthful homicides in Miami, and I got a lot of positive, encouraging feedback. I appreciate that. No matter what "solution" you recommend, it's never an easy topic to discuss.

A friend from my old stomping grounds in Milwaukee reminded me earlier in the day how we used to discuss violent crime as being the entire community's problem, not just the problem of the neighborhood where the crime is taking place.

No worries. I'm not getting all hippie on you. But what I mean is whether you live in the middle of Dodge City or on the outer cusp of the 'burbs it is your problem.

It always used to amaze me when non-reporter friends at after work gatherings would say things like "Saw your article; glad that didn't happen in my 'hood!" They didn't realize that if the violent crime problem wasn't curbed it was gonna grow. And when it outgrew the boundaries of the typically unsafe 'hood where do you think the problem was gonna go? It was going to expand to other neighborhoods until it eventually reached the doorstep of the mythically safe 'burbs.

So, while I still insist that no govt. program and no amount of cops can directly fix the problem, I believe there is obvious and tangible benefit in extra cops on the street and well-structured activities for bored, hopeless-feeling youth. Better you're sitting in the Y after school getting music production lessons or reading a book or playing hoops than getting tempted to sling rocks on the street. And better to have the presence of an extra cop or two around to make you think twice, than lawless streets to give you a false sense of confidence that crime might work for you.
In the end though, nothing works like good home training to keep a kid from growing up into a heartless psycho.

But if you're wondering what your contribution could be, think about that kid on your block with no dad, no big brother, no hard-working uncles, and a mom working too hard to support him to actually spend time w/him. Think about that kid whose dad is working hard but just doesn't have the cool cred to impress upon the kid to behave. Would it kill you to chat w/the kid here and there? Demonstrate your coolness? When you see him walking up the block to play hoops at the playground walk with him. If he's lounging in his yard with his buddies, ask them about school so they can see someone cool and hip like yourself puts a premium on education. You don't have any kids? Tell that kid's folks you'll show him around your fancy office on Take Your (Kid) to Work Day. You might end up steering him in the right direction. And so what if he is a shiftless punk now. He didn't get that way on his own. If you have to be mad at someone, be mad at the adults who let him down. But don't take it out on the kid, or you may be indirectly contributing to the cycle repeating itself when he grows up.

Seriously folks it is your problem. If you think otherwise, you've subjected yourself to the worst kind of denial - even worse than the waiter who served me the hairy chicken sandwich last week.

One last thing, and then I'm done. This whole issue reminds me of a black kid in college who was from the Caribbean. He took great pride in his roots and used to remind people regularly that he was not "African American." And that was fine. It was an accurate claim. But at times when he got really animated - say at a booze-laden party - this kid would go so far as to insist he wasn't even black, so issues concerning black Americans were not his issues. Seriously, in spite of his appearance he equated "black" with being American. So he would loudly protest the label. When the Black Student Union sent him invitations to participate in community volunteering - picking up trash, working with troubled teens, etc., he was dismissive of them. That all stopped after this kid had a nasty confrontation w/a couple of white men who called him all kinds of racial slurs. I felt bad for him, but my first reaction was "Hell, why didn't you just tell 'em you were Caribbean and not black!" Of course, we know the answer to that one. Needless to say, suddenly this kid became concerned and actively involved in what he had considered to be just "black" issues before. He realized that even if you can't see the connection between you and something you feel you don't relate to, it doesn't mean a connection isn't there.


  • But what I mean is whether you live in the middle of Dodge City or on the outer cusp of the 'burbs it is your problem.

    Exactly, James.

    Good post. I'm encouraged to see another South Florida blogger addressing this issue.

    By Anonymous Rick, at 7:31 AM  

  • Pity it needs to be said so much these days.

    Heck, we're all people, if it affects people then it affects me.

    Or, as someone put it & so much better: -

    No man is an island, entire of itself
    every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main
    if a clod be washed away by the sea,
    Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were,
    as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were
    any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind
    and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls
    it tolls for thee.

    -- John Donne

    By Anonymous Bronchitikat, at 8:28 AM  

  • James, you're explanation is the best I've seen regarding this issue and why it should concern all of us.

    I live in the 'burbs. The rash of youth homicides concerns me. I do what I can to promote a positive environment in my home and in my surroundings. In other words, I do my part to the best of my abilities.

    Still, it HAS to start at home. It has to start in the troubled areas. Community leaders need to stop making excuses and take charge. Until then, No one from the 'burbs can have as direct of an influence as those who are there day in and day out. If families in the troubled neighborhoods don't start placing an emphasis on the family and on proper values, all the concern and work from suburbanites will make little if any difference.

    I'm not going to get into a long rant about pop culture and it's possible contribution to this nightmare. But it does make you wonder whether we as a society have become tolerant to the point of tolerating anything, good AND evil.

    By Blogger Robert, at 12:03 PM  

  • Robert, you and I are definitely on the same page. Nothing like "home training" as the first and best line of defense.

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 3:50 PM  

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