No, this isn’t another call for legislation restricting the sale of fire arms or ammunition. No, right, I understand. Guns don’t kill; people do. People with guns kill faster and more effectively than people without guns — but people with guns also stop other people with guns from killing other people. If we got rid of all the guns we would be safer, but that is impossible — and anyway it would be unconstitutional, right? — so the next safest thing is for everyone to have a gun, right? No, not really, because most of us can easily think of a dozen people we wouldn’t want walking around with a loaded firearm.
Forgive me for growing weary of this debate but while the rhetoric flies, my guys are getting shot. Disputes are being settled with barbarism. Hunting is a sport in the inner-city and the prey is young men. Sensitive young men — same inside as my son and his friends and your sons and their friends. Some of the shooters are too. Just boys with guns.
Gun control. Self-control. Lack of parental control. There is a lot to say about senseless killing — and there is very little other kind of killing on the streets of South Los Angeles and many other communities. And I’m sick of it — me and a lot of other people who live with it and lose from it.
I’m sick of people who devalue human life. Who just don’t care — whether those people run corporations or manage factories or occupy seats in congress or sell drugs or pimp children or shoot at young men they don’t know because of some problem they’ve got with some other young men they barely know.
And I’m sick of people who act like crime and violence in this city and other cities has been solved because it is no longer happening where they live. It is still happening. It is happening a lot. It is happening to children — and I’m sick of it.
I’m sick of consoling young men who almost got shot over the weekend and who had to stay home all day Sunday because of the bullets going back and forth on their street. I’m tired of visiting guys in the hospital and being glad they didn’t die. I’m tired of teaching young men in wheelchairs.
I’m tired of people who think that violence will end when everyone has a gun. I’m tired of people who think we can make all the guns disappear.
I’m tired of video games that celebrate violence.
I’m tired of all the digital violence and all the fun that people are having with it. I’m sorry. I know that people need to enjoy themselves in whatever way they want to as long as they aren’t hurting anyone and I know that a lot of people find amusement in digital violence of various kinds — including the young men I visit in the hospital and hear telling me that they were pinned down in their apartments because of real shootings, including the young man who was a very talented dancer who was shot in his legs while he was trying to wash his car (he’s recovered now and through hard-work and perseverance he’s dancing in a show on Broadway and I wish his inspiring accomplishment meant there would be less gun violence in the future but it doesn’t).
I once told my son that I thought any time a video game player killed someone in a video game that the game should make his character attend that dead character’s funeral and see his wife and children crying their digital tears in the game. My son said that was really stupid. I knew he would say that — and I suppose he’s right, but it frustrates me that we can now so easily indulge our aggression through these artificial means. I think we’re better off having to resist those impulses altogether. I’m not suggesting that video games be banned or people should stop playing them (I haven’t even made my own son stop playing them). Just that I’ve lost my sense of humor or irony about it.
I certainly don’t think that digital violence has become a positive outlet for aggression. It has probably just encouraged it. The ease of the mayhem, the killing without consequence and, of course, the ability to die and come back to life.
I see that aggression played out in the lives of young man I have taught and coached for over twenty years. They are immersed in a world of powerlessness turned to anger and madness. I see the combustibility of poverty and materialism and too many children alone in the world and I’m tired of it.
I listen to these young men when they tell me what is on their minds and in their hearts. These are young men hardened by the inner-city street culture and what is really going on inside of them is this: though vaguely hopeful — or trying to be hopeful — about the future, they are mostly sad. Sad and angry and afraid.
I tell them to cling to their hope and cheer up and I try to give them a perspective that might make something constructive out of their anger, turn it into passion and ambition. It’s what most of us do — those of us with the honor of teaching these young men — and that’s why it makes us so sick when one of them gets disfigured or paralyzed or killed by a bullet on the street.
Almost twenty years ago, the Journal of the American Medical Association used the word “epidemic” to describe gang violence in Los Angeles. More than ten years ago, the Center for Disease Control declared “youth violence” in the United States a “public health issue.” The doctors and public health officials who made these statements wanted to raise awareness about what they believed was far more than a law-enforcement problem.
They were right. Children getting shot in school or on the way to and from school — or anywhere else — is shameful. A shame that belongs to all of us whether our children are the perpetrators, the victims, the near-victims, or whether we’ve had the good fortune to shield our children from it altogether.
I’m ashamed of it and I hope you are too.