Children of violence

September 10, 1991

Last weekend passed as almost every other in Baltimore -- with barbecues, outings to the movies and lazy Sunday-morning newspaper reading. And, of course, a homicide or two, and a few shootings. Monday's paper listed the most recent victims: Quantae Johnson, 4 years old -- the fourth child-victim of gun violence this summer -- was shot in the forehead by mistake when a couple of 14-year-olds and their friends went after a 17-year-old rival. Lydia Shirazi, 15, died after being shot by her 20-year-old boyfriend in a fight over visitation of their 10-month-old son.

As tragic as the senseless violence itself is the fact that these incidents are no longer rare. Increasingly the victims, as well as the perpetrators of violence, are children, who have a lifetime of violence ahead of them. There is little comfort, nor validity, in dismissing these young people as products of the poor for, in fact, the social problems their violence reflects -- from alcohol and drug use and teen pregnancy to the disintegration of the "traditional" family -- are pervasive throughout our culture. A recent Washington Post story noted a marked increase in the number of "relief-of-custody petitions" -- cases in which parents from all socio-economic classes feel so frazzled and unable to control their children that they ask the state to place their sons and daughters in foster care. In Maryland, some 500 of the 6,600 children currently in foster care were put there by their parents, and another 700 were simply abandoned.

The quiet chaos that has gripped families for decades is now no longer silent; the violence that erupts predictably in Baltimore is merely another symptom. The death of a 15-year-old, unmarried mother and the spectacle of a 4-year-old boy with a bullet wound in his head are vivid reminders that the country has neglected the domestic agenda for too long.

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