Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Teach Your Children Well

Today my wife called in a mix of panic and anger after witnessing two men arguing at the corner of St. Ferdinand and Chartres, one of them waving a gun around no more than 50 feet from the entrance to the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts. She was on here way to drop off dinner to my daughter, who is a dancer at NOCCA.

According to my wife, who was at a stop sign just feet from the altercation, two older men were arguing and one threatened to shoot the other. The second suggested the first didn't have a gun. yelled. Challenged, fellow number one pulled out his gun and waved it around a bit. She didn't wait around to see if anyone was shot, but pulled quickly in to the school yard and told the security guards there. They told her to call 9-1-1 and went back into their cubicle. She she just called me in anger and went back to work. There were no bodies lying on the corner when she went back past.

This kind of altercation is disturbing enough, but what rattled me was my daughter's reaction when she go home tonight. Her friends thought that my wife had completely overreacted. "She must not be from a very big city," she reported was their response. To these kids, some of whom go to very hard schools in the inner city, this was no big deal; just another day in the City That Care Forgot.

There is something terribly wrong with their reaction. The reason the death toll in New Orleans rivals that of the casualty count in Iraq is because too many people just can not get themselves riled up. These kids, some of the best and brightest in New Orleans, think its perfectly normal for two men to get in an altercation on a corner and for one of them to quickly escalate to waving a gun around.

These weren't a couple of gang-bangers but a couple of older fellows according to my wife. It's just as well. If they were the age of the girls my daughter dance with, I'm sure someone would have died at that corner this afternoon. Its a dangerous city, and I am not surprised that some people would drop a gun in their pocket to walk their dog, but the casual way it escalated to a brandished gun, the disinterest of the guards who are there to protect the children in the school, and the callous unconcern of by daughter's fellow students all point to a profound dysfunction.

My daughter's friends are wrong. We're not innocents, even if my wife is a nice girl from North Dakota. About the time my daughter was born, we lived on 4th Street N.E. in Washington, D.C. just about the start of the crack wars. I prided myself on my city savvy, on the way I sat on my stoop and visited with my neighbors, making myself part of the neighborhood so they would keep an eye on me and mine while most of my yuppie neighbors fled quickly into their houses and locked their barred doors.

At that point in time, in the early 1990s, something had changed. People I once did not fear, petty criminals who would avoid you if you looked them in the eye as you passed and kept your wits about about, became animals who would shoot you first and then see what was in your pockets. At night, I could sit in my tiny back patio and hear gun battles. Police helicopters would circle the neighborhood at roof-top level, sweeping the area with their powerful search lights.

One night walking back form the neighborhood store, I watched a gang of pre-teens walking down the middle of the street. A police cruiser came up behind them and slowly rolled through the crowd, which broke into a chorus of N.W.A's "Fuck The Police". The cruiser just idled on and turned the corner. When two people died withing a block of our house, and an abduction/rape/murder began in the alley across the street, we fled to the Virginia suburbs.

Something in the city had gone terribly wrong. The last sparks of humanity were flickering out in people all around me, people with guns who were not afraid to use them or to die. The manageable Junko Pardner I could stare down had become Alex the Droogie of Clockwork Orange, an immoral golum with a gun. I could no longer excuse living in the city they were taking over like a plague of vermin, not with a wife and a small child.

What shocks me today is not that there are still killing fields in our cities, that children grow up pining for their first handgun. Not much has changed in the America that began to produce these kids over a decade ago, and what has changed has not been for the better, at least not in their lives. We imprison more people than any other industrialized nation, but do nothing at the root of the problem.

What shocks me today is the casual and callous attitude of my daughter's peers. The children who attend NOCCA with my daughter have no excuse. They are kids smart enough to make something of themselves through art and to make the grades in that enables them to split their days between traditional high school and NOCCA. Someone needs to take these children by the lapels, to take all of the children who are not past saving but believe its perfectly normal for people to menace each other with guns, and give them a good hard smack. When they get over that, they need an explanation as to why it is Not OK that people wave guns around in the street at the slightest provocation.

Its bad enough that we've let one set of children become predators in an urban jungle. We must not let our own children think that this is a normal way to live, or the jungle will prevail and there will be no safe place of retreat. Even if we all flee the animals, deprived of prey, will simply follow us. And for all of our fine rationalizations based on prejudice or economics or politics as to why things have turned out this way, we will have no one to blame but ourselves.



Comments:
What shocks me even more is the the casual and callous attitude and the belligerent indifference by much of society to the problems that produced the situation. They have devalued human life just as much as the criminals.
 
Maybe you should speak to the principal about having some kind of meeting to discuss this. And you should definitely squeal on the do-nothing security guards. What the heck is the school apying them for, after all?
 
Yet again a brilliant post - although one I would have rather you had not had to write!!!

As a legal alien from a civilisation without guns, American gun violence has always shocked me. I'm not stranger to it - a man was shot and killed at our laundret two weeks before we left for the summer, in Cincinnati and we used to listen to the gun-fire and wait to hear the accompanying ambulance sirens from our deck.
I know there is the whole (in my view preposterous) right to bear arms thing here but really hows it working out? In the UK we have a tiny fraction of the gun violnece (yes, we have some - but its tiny compared with the US - even per head of population). The police don't carry guns (we have a gun squad if needed). Its very hard to own a gun (after the Dunblane massacre the laws were tightened).

What scared me most though, was when watching a British TV program recently the person (a cop) was in danger and my automatic reaction was "oh no they don't have a gun"!!! So quickly we become used to guns and them being a necessity. When I first came to this country I was freaked out and scared everytime I saw a cop with their gun - now I'm scared if they don't have one.

We as humans are easily persuaded and our fear often clouds our judgements. The rise in crime in NOLA scares me and I have no answers. But if guns were not a "right" in this country I think it would be a lot safer.

Thanks!!
Kirsty
 
If I can claim a minute to breathe at work today I do hope to call NOCCA and suggest, based on the reaction of the kids, that they need to do something to communicate to their charges that that casual attitude is not OK.
 
For those of you who haven't had the pleasure, Mrs. Wet is a gentle soul who certainly does not need to have guns waved around at her. And, of course, all the students at NOCCA are the city's promise; they need to be atround guns even less! I am truly sorry.

This is as good a time as any to mention that it is not true that, as was widely reported in 2005, university researchers fired 700 blank rounds to see if anyone would report it, and no one did.

http://asia.news.yahoo.com/051202/ap/d8e7peoo8.html

"Instead, about 900 rounds of live ammunition were fired by officers over a two-day period in December 2003 during a demonstration of a gunshot detection system for the New Orleans Police Department, said George Orrinson, of Planning Systems Inc., an engineering and technology company demonstrating the system. Orrinson said the company was told by police that one public call came in about the gunfire."

One public call came in about the gunfire. I feel much better now! Oh yes, the retraction -- on Yahoo! Asia! -- came out in December '05.
 
I participated in an event at NOMA last night.

In a casual conversation about the City recovery a woman who was engaged in the conversation mentioned that all the crime was going one between "them". And that none of us live near "them" so we don't have to worry.

Aside from her arrogant and ignorant statement that "we" all live far from "them" there is the cold hard reality that she believes "they" are woth less than "us", when in fact she is perpetuating the myth that "we" are safe' for the simple reason that "we" are not "them"

Any parent of a NOCCA child should call and question the response to this incident. I know I will.
 
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