The Means to the Mean Streets

When Al-Qaeda terrorists commandeered aircraft and flew them into buildings, they employed violence as a means to an end. When President Bush authorized the invasion and occupation of Iraq, he employed violence as a means to an end. When gang members engage in drive-by shootings and turf wars, they employ violence as a means to an end. When the state straps prisoners down and executes them, it employs violence as a means to an end. While the ends may vary in these examples—along with the perceived morality of the conduct—the means remain inescapably brutal. And the message is brutally inescapable: violence provides a way to resolve problems or conflict.

It is one thing when those who are utterly deranged or enraged employ violence. It is quite another when those who are ostensibly levelheaded and thoughtful employ such means. In the latter case, violence is imbued with a certain legitimacy born of implied rationality—which lends it a more powerful appeal and, therefore, makes it much more dangerous. When seemingly reasonable individuals, particularly those in a position of leadership and authority, permit themselves to utilize violence (almost always by proxy), they permit others to follow their lead. In short, they model a way of thinking and acting that encourages the use of violence. And innocents pay the price.

From the New York Times:

Trying to Disarm the Dangerous World That Students Live In

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla.—During the spring of his sophomore year in high school here, Jeffrey Johnson took the standardized tests that Florida requires for promotion and graduation. He scored in the 93rd percentile in reading and the 95th in math. That same semester, he earned straight A’s.

Two years later, in May 2006, Jeffrey was about to graduate summa cum laude, having received a full college scholarship. Days before commencement, at the age of 17, he was shot to death at a party during an argument about his car. His graduation mortarboard was found near his body.

For Paul Moore, who had taught Jeffrey in an advanced social studies class at Miami Carol City Senior High School, a terrible question began to emerge. It all turned on the concept on accountability. Jeffrey had proved accountable to the state by passing the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. But what about the accountability the state had to keep Jeffrey alive?

Jeffrey was the third Carol City student shot to death during the 2005-6 academic year. By the first semester of this year, two more had been killed in gun violence. It was then that Mr. Moore decided to do something more than deliver eulogies, visit weeping parents and initiate class discussions about all the senseless death.

He drafted a petition, expressing his righteous anger. (“Anger� indeed was the word, for it derives from the Norse “angr,� which means grief at the wrongness in the world.) The petition appealed to the newly elected governor, Charlie Crist, to “make Florida’s schools and the communities around them ‘measurably’ safer� and it concluded, “You are accountable to us for it!�

In the past month, several thousand people have signed the petition. It is not being forwarded, in the modern way, on the Internet. Instead, volunteers take paper versions into classes, churches, offices; a copy even turned up among some teachers in Chicago. Mr. Moore’s words have reached to the heart of something.

“I see these kids as the canary in the coal mine,� said Mr. Moore, 53. “They’re the first to go. But ultimately all our lives are in danger. I know there are personal failures here, but you have to give children a chance to live long enough to make moral choices. The Preamble of the Constitution says the government must guarantee the general welfare. They’ve failed. They’ve failed. These children shouldn’t be dying.� [full text]

Indeed, they should not be dying. But when the so-called leaders of this nation devote greater attention and resources to stemming the violence on the streets of Baghdad and Fallujah than on the streets of Miami and Washington, DC, and when they continue to recklessly employ violence as a means to an end and model unhealthy ways of resolving problems and conflict, then for all intents and purposes they are loading the guns that kill our children. Shouldn’t they be more accountable?

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