Monday, January 02, 2006

Guns, Hope and Societal Failure

It is January 2nd and Toronto has had its first homicide of 2006. A young man died of gun shot wounds.

At this point, a fair number of us are asking, "what is wrong with these people?"

The answer to that is that they are criminals. They are members of gangs shooting one another and others to defend turf, control drug trade, show how tough they are, and get respect. They are causing the unnecessary deaths of many young men and many innocent by-standers, including several children. They need to be hunted down and put in jail.

So now we know what's wrong with them. Here's a better question: How did they get that way?

No one is born a criminal. Even those with sociopathic or psychotic tendencies will not necessarily become criminals. Criminals are made by the society which surrounds them, and once someone is on a criminal path, it is very difficult to lead them off of it. So how did these young men become criminals?

The reasons vary: poverty, a sense of marginalization from society, a need to belong, a chance to do something exciting, a lack of understanding of the pain they cause, inadequate parenting, lack of community support, lack of social programs. The reasons young men become criminals (and I say young men because that's what the majority of them are) are as varied as the young men themselves. There are several common elements, though, and one of the most important is a lack of hope.

If you look at the society in which you live, the circumstances in which you grew up, and the people around you, and see no hope for improvement in your life, why would you continue to support that society? Why would you follow that society's rules when it offers nothing to you?

To put it another way, young men playing on sports teams don't tend to run around shooting people. Young men with jobs don't tend to run around shooting people. Young men going to university don't tend to run around shooting people. This is because all of them have something to work towards. They have hope.

Young men with nothing to work towards - with no hope - will search for something. And if that something is status and a sense of belonging in a local gang, guess what they're going to be doing?

The majority of these young men are lost. We can offer programs to get some of them back; gun amnesty, job creation, social counselling can all help. Unfortunately, the majority of them won't escape, and will end up as burdens on our social systems through welfare, jail time, and medical expenses. We as a society have failed them, and we as a society have to pay the price.

The question is, how long are we going to keep paying it? We have lost these young men. Do we want to lose the next generation as well?

There is much talk in this election from various parties about tougher gun laws, more police on the street and tougher sentences for offenders, and these may all help with the current problem. What they will not do is prevent the next generation of lost young men from taking the same path. We must offer hope to the next generation of at-risk youth; we must show them that there is a better way than the gangs, and better opportunities than being a drug-dealer.

We need to work within our communities; to identify those that are at-risk of falling into criminal activity and offer them a different path. Some steps have already been taken, but much more needs to be done, if we are going to save the next generation.

Back to work.

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