Every time a soldier in Iraq or Afghanistan is killed, it makes headlines. Whenever a police officer or firefighter dies, we hear about it. If there’s an unfortunate shooting at a prestigious university or small town all-American school, society pauses and grapples with the notion of how this could have happened there, in middle America, far removed from the mires of urban life. But what about the countless young children whose lives are cut short daily in cities across this nation? Who hears their cries? Who listens to the plight of suffering mothers and fathers mourning the dead? And who will step in to curb the extreme rise in violence and utter disregard for human life that is so pervasive now in our community?
The world was recently fixated on a disturbing video clip which captured the brutal, senseless murder of 16-year-old Chicago honor roll student Derrion Albert. Apparently caught in between two rival student groups on his way home from Fenger High School, young Derrion was beaten with wooden planks, kicked, stomped upon and beaten some more till his lifeless body was dragged away. In what appeared to be an all-out ‘brawl’ outside of his school, the horrific incident was followed by more incomprehensible unrest at what was supposed to be a peaceful memorial for Derrion a few days later.
Watching this graphic video will make anyone shudder at the amount of young people involved, the extent of violence that erupted and the complete lack of respect for humanity on display. Because this horrific incident was in fact caught on tape, the media and those who normally turn a blind eye towards the downtrodden had no choice but to take note. But what we must keep in mind is that in addition to Derrion’s violent death, over 30 Chicago students lost their lives in 2008 alone, when some 290 shootings took place. And this epidemic isn’t unique to Chicago alone. The same week that the this brawl occurred, a 15-year-old in Arizona died after being stabbed repeatedly following an argument with another student. And all across the country, young children – specifically children of color and those in poorer disenfranchised neighborhoods – may have lost their lives, and we will likely never hear about these young souls because their incident wasn’t captured on tape.
Now we must ask ourselves, what are we doing to curb this most pressing issue? If children are in fact the bearers of the torch for tomorrow, what are we doing to train, protect and guide them to lead the way? Why are more and more of our youth acting out in such vicious, destructive methods? Ask any psychologist and he or she will tell you that the first place a child learns behavior is from their parents. With more and more broken homes, and parents/grandparents struggling to make ends meet, young people often find friends and the streets as their mentor. Turning to music and entertainment that also often times glorifies violence and the superficial, our neglected youth quickly adapt behavior they deem will protect them in neighborhoods where authorities sometimes fail to do so. Attending poorly funded and inadequately staffed schools, these children grow up in an environment of hopelessness, anger and frustration which no doubt contributes to the rise in aggression so prevalent around the country.
The breakdown of a family structure, high incarceration rates and poverty unequivocally leads to violence. Easy access to firearms contributes to violence. An environment of crime, glorification of negativity and a lack of structure leads to violence. Lack of opportunity and proper education sooner or later results in violence. It’s a horrific cycle that must be shattered, and must be addressed immediately. We are losing too many of our young – those like honor roll student Derrion who may have gone on to find the cure for AIDS, or created a new life saving vaccine. Unfortunately he, like so many of our children, have been robbed of their opportunity.
Everyday, parents from around the world come to the United States with the hopes of giving their children better education, and a chance to improve their lives. Let us not fail the millions who are already here and in desperate need. We all need to take bold action this instant, for the cameras won’t always be there, but the tears and heartache of grief can be heard everywhere.