Today’s teen violence is a problem that transcends race, gender, and socioeconomic level – and it’s likely a symptom of an adult problem
I’m not an expert on teen violence, urban violence, or violence in general. However, as a survivor of violent crime myself and a family member of several survivors of violent crimes, I have a oft-too-common perspective that many share on violence in America.
As a native of Pittsburgh living here during the aftermath of the Franklin Regional High School tragedy last week as a former resident on the south side of Chicago for several years, perhaps I have a unique perspective on the incidents of violence in America, especially youth-initiated violence and urban violence.
And, despite what you may have heard from the pundits around the nation and the folks at your modern-day water cooler (be it real or via social media) recently, this is not about race, gender, creed, or socioeconomic level.
The teen violence – and, notably, the mass violence – we continue to see across the nation from ongoing gang wars in Chicago to mass assaults in the “Era of Columbine” has less to do with how we educate our boys, the geographical locations of the tragedies, or the skin color of the assailants. Teen violence, urban violence, and mass violence – much of which being committed by people younger than 25 years old – are symptoms of an American problem, not a demographic problem.
It’s as simple as that.
The ebb-and-flow of violence in today’s America ranges from teenage girls participating in flash mob robberies to girls inviting over “a friend” in order to jump her (and video-record the assault). Mass shootings and assaults such as the tragedies at Columbine and Franklin Regional have occurred in affluent neighborhoods, while the mass murder at Virginia Tech occurred on the campus of one of the nation’s most respected academic institutions. Incidents such as the Derrion Albert murder impact good kids in challenged neighborhoods as they simply walk home from school. From the inner city to suburbia, violence ratcheting up has become a major issue with today’s youth.
Incidents of female offenders being incarcerated are hitting troubling marks as well, only adding to our horrible distinction of America having the world’s highest incarceration rate. Whole communities – including the African-American community nationally- have their chances for survival and prosperity challenged due to the impact of violence and a culture of crime within their neighborhoods.
It also seems as though this has less to do with guns than some would propose. The accused in Murraysville, Pennsylvania used two knives. Teen girls pummel their victims with fists and sticks. At the same time, gang bangers use illegally-purchased and -altered saw-off shotguns in densely-populated areas. The weapons used at Sandy Hook were legally purchased. The ones used at Columbine were obtained through a “straw-man” purchase.
Teen violence, mass violence, and urban violence – generally speaking – are issues that are symptomatic of our nation’s cultural fabric, not our policy woes over gun laws, public schools, or neighborhood policing. At some point, we have to recognize that our failure to dialogue as a diverse collective of communities nationally and to work together despite often being juxtaposed politically leads directly to a “circumstances be damned” mindset that prompts some still-developing teens to make life-changing – not to mention rash and selfish– decisions.
Heck, have we seen adults make rash, selfish decisions in politics over the past several years – with the debt ceiling, with Obamacare, with political corruption and kickbacks, and with campaign financing and promises?
Why should we expect children to do any different when it comes to dealing with a bully in the hallway or an unpopular girl on the bus?
One of the most notable things I remember hearing from a member of a gang on the south side of Chicago during a talk about a year ago was that his peers would be very willing to stop being violent and start acting appropriately once again as soon as the adults around them started taking charge and acting like adults once again as well. From looking around at the prevalence of teens acting out to prompt ongoing incidents of terrible tragedies throughout the nation and across the spectrum of socioeconomic levels, perhaps it’s time for us to heed a sentiment that seems to apply to us all regardless of race, gender, creed, or socioeconomic level. Perhaps it’s time to stop blaming metal detectors (or lack thereof), rap music, or teen culture for the increase in horrific violence impacting America’s youth – and start looking at the people that should be leading them in a different direction.
Lenny McAllister is a political analyst and commentator featured on various local, national and international outlets including Al Jazeera America, CNN, the American Urban Radio Network, and Sun News Network. The Pittsburgh-based pundit hosts NightTalk: Get to the Point on the Pittsburgh Cable News Channel on Friday nights. He appears on Newsradio 1020 KDKA this week on Monday, April 14 from 7pm – 11pm Eastern and Saturday, April 19 from 8pm – midnight Eastern. You can follow the former WVON The Talk of Chicago 1690 AM host on Twitter and Facebook.