Reducing ViolenceIn his commentary (June 17), George Will...

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July 03, 1993

Reducing Violence

In his commentary (June 17), George Will postulates that the realistic portrayal of violence in the movie "Menace II Society" could serve as a catalyst for reducing the violence of inner city youth. He states seeing "Menace" would "sicken the viewer and strengthen their resolve to enforce domestic tranquillity."

For the past several years, I have worked with inner-city children and adolescents. My experience has taught me that such solutions to our problems with violence are overly simplistic, to say the least.

Movies about the negative effects of violence, no matter how realistic and unromanticizing, are not going to curb this behavior.

The truth of the matter is that violence can only be stopped if we are willing to face up to its causes. These causes are multiple, and they begin early in the child's life.

First, young people who become violent are often the victims of violence themselves. Many have been physically and sexually abused, and they have been neglected and rejected by their own parents.

In essence, they are reared in material and emotional poverty. Because they have received little, if any, love and nurturing, these children become hardened and latently hostile. Eventually this increasingly intense anger leads to lashing out against all authority and society.

Second, angry, hostile children often fail to learn to empathize with or develop feelings for others. They become egocentric and mainly concerned with the fulfillment of their own basic needs. Victims are viewed as objects, not people. As a result, they can be preyed upon without feeling guilt or remorse.

Third, although angry youngsters may know right from wrong, they have little incentive to behave morally, particularly if it does not directly benefit them.

Controlling impulses, the delay of gratification and a sense of responsibility for self and others has never been taught or consistently reinforced by the significant adults in their lives. Compromise, negotiation and self-restraint are viewed as weaknesses rather than strengths.

Fourth, because of their tumultuous upbringing, many inner-city youth have never received the early cognitive and educational training needed to be successful in school. As a result, they often fail several times.

This lack of success leads to strong feelings of inferiority and frustration. An "I don't care" attitude develops, and anti-social behavior follows. Many of these children have no emotional investment in the system. Thus, they become antagonistic toward the school, the community and the society, blaming them for their lack of success.

Fifth, the fact is that for many inner-city young people, violent or "crazy" behavior often has an immediately beneficial result. It enables one to frighten and subdue a victim or to defeat an adversary.

It may also lead to material rewards without going through the daily grind of working for them.

Sixth, children who develop violent personalities are often willing to take the risk of being maimed or killed. Even though the odds are against them, they disregard this and are willing to take their chances.

This is a difficult mind set to change. Many youngsters are convinced that this is the only way to survive, given their circumstances. They believe they have little or nothing to lose by behaving violently.

Violent, impressionable youth often live in a world in which the toughest, strongest and meanest serve as role models.

Kindness, compassion, patience and empathy are viewed as "wimpy." No self-respecting tough would dare to foster or acknowledge that such feelings exist or that they were worth having. Rather, they exhibit the opposite traits, emphasizing a .. hardened, insensitive notion of manhood.

These are just some of the problems we must address if we want to curb youthful violence. Viewing movies like "Menace," buying back guns, and other "quick fixes" won't solve the problem.

The fact is that for the past 20 years we have, through our neglect, created an underclass of seriously disturbed children who have become violent adults. Unfortunately, the conditions causing this have not changed.

If we truly want to solve this problem, we must be prepared to look violence right in the eye and take some tough steps to curb it.

We need to support the police and to provide them with the resources and manpower to deter street crime. By strengthening law enforcement, we are sending the message that violence and its aftermath will no longer be tolerated, and we are prepared to take strong steps to stop it.

We need to provide the resources to those persons, programs and institutions who deal with troubled youth and families. If we provide the needed services now, it is more likely that our young people will become viable, productive citizens rather than future criminals.

Paul J. Lavin

Gen Burnie

Bad Behavior Doesn't Make an Effective Warrior

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