Gang violence leads to collateral damage

So what can be said about the recent gunfights in our streets that hasn’t already been said? What can be written that would help the situation that leaders of the community groups most affected haven’t already expressed? Not a heck of a lot.

So why write another column about the gunfire? Why focus again on the negative? Why not write something positive about kids doing good things in our town? It’s not that hard to find them.  There are few volunteer organizations in our city that don’t have some.

It would seem that we need to revisit this violence again because it has reached the point where it spread out and now touches other kids, the ones who don’t attend tag football games with semi-automatics in their gym bags, the ones who actually carry gym stuff there.  What happened with the shooting at the ball fields a few weeks ago is that the violence went from seemingly being confined to certain groups of people in certain parts of town to a problem that was spilling over and affecting innocent bystanders. 

Suddenly, everyone stood up and took notice because it seemed as though no one could feel safe anywhere.  They’ve shot up the Dimond Center. Now they’ve shot up the ball fields.  What place is safe for our children anymore? We think they are safe in their own homes but stray bullets can pierce walls and make them collateral damage even there.

Innocent bystanders have always been affected by violence. It’s not something new.  Not all good kids live in certain upscale enclaves of this city.  Not all good kids have the good fortune to live in good neighborhoods. But they are still good kids.  They get hurt and they get killed by gang violence all the time. And they have done nothing more to deserve it than most of those people at the fields that day.  They just have the misfortune of being in the wrong time and place through no fault of their own. They live in neighborhoods where some kids pull guns instead of little red wagons. They become a byproduct of gang violence that the gangs accept as the price of doing business.

These are the kids who really get lost in all this brouhaha. The good kids from the marginal neighborhoods are the ones there is no special program for.  They are not kids on the verge so they don’t rate intervention for being at risk.  And they aren’t gang members so they don’t rate the services usually offered to juvenile offenders.  Whether these kids are making it on their own against all odds or doing it with the help and support of a family, the important thing is that they are making it. And they deserve better than being just detritus on some gang’s road to perverted machismo.

Whatever motivates this group of kids to try and lead decent lives amidst the violence that has apparently become part of their daily routine, we need to make sure they don’t get lost in the noise surrounding the shootings.  We need to make sure we foster whatever it is that keeps them going on a healthy path. We need to not let them get forgotten as we rush to provide services for squeaking wheels.

Another thing we need to not let happen is that we should not let this become about guns.  Because it isn’t about guns except insofar as they have provided a different way of doing what people have been doing to each other since we all first started living in groups.  Check out Martin Scorsese’s “Gangs of New York” in case there is any doubt in your mind that we have been killing our neighbors with substantial collateral damage among innocent bystanders for a long time. 

So this isn’t about the method used. It’s about why young people are using it as the first outlet for their frustration and anger. It’s about why these young people apparently find life so terribly cheap.  It’s about families and relationships that form a community.  It’s about those quiet kids amidst the violence who are making it against all odds.

We need to somehow make these kids the heroes of their neighborhood instead of the losers who think being a man somehow relates to the length of their gun barrel. Because it’s the quiet ones working towards a better future for themselves and their families that are our only hope for the future.