Seeking Liberty

Liberty is the Fruit from Which All Progress Grows

A Culture of Failure

Four young men in Chicago were charged with first degree murder in the beating and killing another teenager after a dispute last week. The foursome, Silvonus Shannon, 19, Eugene Riley, 18, Eric Carson, 16, and Eugene Bailey, 18, along with as many as three other suspects, used splintered railroad ties to beat the victim over his head then kicked and punched him when he tried to get back up. At least part of the beating was captured on a cell phone video clip.

Derrion Albert was a sophomore honors student at Christian Fenger Academy High School. His death is the one of dozens of school-aged killings in the past three years in Chicago and the surrounding neighborhoods. Despite a handgun ban inside the city limits and the comparative difficulty in obtaining firearms in Illinois, most of the killings have been shootings within blocks of the school grounds.

At this point it becomes clear that the problem isn’t the guns themselves. This young man was beaten to death, not shot. Seven other teens whose anger and lack of compassion for other living souls was so great that they literally pummeled the life out of him didn’t need guns. They used wooden boards and their own fists.

At least one parent has got it right:

At a Monday vigil at the school, some community members said the solution lies with parents.

“It is our problem. We have to take control of our children,” said Dawn Allen, who attended the vigil where a group of residents tried to force their way into the school before being turned back by police.

The problem does lie with the parents. Too often we blame the instruments of violence and not the violent actors themselves. Instead of holding them accountable for their actions, parents who make excuses for their misbehaving progeny enable those children to grow into bullies and later into criminals. That the age for severe criminal activity seems to be getting younger with each passing year is all the more disturbing.

Culture can be defined as the aggregated behaviors of a society or group. There is a culture of violence in the inner cities that has persisted for decades. It crosses all racial, ethnic and societal boundaries. It is promoted by popular culture but its root lies in the parents who fail at providing boundaries and rules for their children; who fail to punish their children and get defensive or make excuses when their child is caught doing something wrong.

Desiyan Bacon, Bailey’s aunt, said her nephew didn’t have anything to do with the beating and was a friend of the victim.

“They need to stop the crime, but when they do it, they need to get the right person,” Bacon said.

Sure, there are times when parents can be justifiably upset, like when my brother was suspended from school for defending himself when another boy started a fight with him. So many parents, however, make it difficult for schools to justifiably punish their children and then never adequately punish those children themselves.

Add to this the social pressure. For so many inner-city youths, achieving success through hard work and studying is seen as “selling out.” Instead of clawing and climbing up the ladder of individual success, they are beaten down by their social groups for being too good at their school or work.

It’s no wonder so many inner-city teens are angry and frustrated: They see no escape from their life of poverty and violence, and receive no real guidance and have no boundaries from their parents; parents who enable, rather than punish, their bad acts.

But Annette Holt, mother of Blair Holt, a Chicago Public Schools student who was shot on a city bus two years ago, said Albert represented “another promising future, just snuffed out because of violence.”

“Someone said he (Derrion) was in the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said. “No, he wasn’t. He was in the right place. He was coming from school.”

Indeed, Ms. Holt. Indeed.

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