Youth crime and violence: The headlines don't shock us, and that's not good

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Maybe by now, we should no longer be alarmed. Maybe it's just the price society pays. But then again, maybe we should be both alarmed and concerned.

As I casually scanned today's headlines, I see where a 13-year-old St. Louis boy has been arrested for firing a gun at spectators during the annual Annie Malone May Day Parade in downtown St. Louis. Police recovered the weapon, and the teen has been arrested.

Now once upon a time not too long ago, this story would shock readers. I mean, my God, a 13-year-old with a weapon and an apparent lack of concern for anyone would have sent a shock wave of amazement through society. But no longer.

We've come to accept -- or been forced to accept -- the stark reality that youth crime and violence -- especially involving guns -- has become all too common. It makes you wonder about the home environment for this 13-year-old. It makes you wonder if our declining culture is somehow to blame. But most of all, it just makes you wonder.

I know the comparison is useless, but when I was a 13-year-old boy, I'm not certain I was allowed to have a BB gun. To leap forward and accept that some 13-year-olds might be armed with a real weapon is just wrong. And then to think that the youth could then actually use that weapon is beyond the imagination of sane, rational minds.

But here we are.

I want an answer, yet I doubt one exists. I want to blame parents or the music industry or the entertainment industry. I want to blame a street culture of violence that has reached epidemic proportions throughout this country. I want to blame gun laws that make it increasingly easy to gain access to a weapon. I want to blame drugs.

More than anything else, I want to find the core of this issue and determine the blame. And then I want society to fix it.

But maybe I'm too naive. Maybe this is just the beginning of the problem. When it becomes virtually commonplace to read or hear about a 13-year-old with a gun, then surely we have a problem.

I draw a bit of distinction between similar violence in schools and violence in general society. Both are insane acts and are condemned universally. But in the school setting at least, you can understand the emotions and passions that bring some youth to violence. Even though those acts are repulsive, they somehow pale by comparison when a teen with a gun takes his violence to the anonymous streets. Maybe that's just my definition but either case is tragic and sickening.

Here's the bottom line. I'm not sure how we arrived at this societal point. Part of the problem is that we've become almost immune to these headlines. And that is almost as much a part of the problem as the violent act itself. We should not be casual about these headlines. We should be enraged. Someday we may find the key to unlock the question of youth violence. Let's pray we find that key in time.

Michael Jensen is a Southeast Missourian columnist and publisher of the Standard Democrat in Sikeston, Mo.

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