Taming the Root of Violence

April 18, 1994

A young black girl is sprayed with disinfectant as a racial taunt by a white classmate. A parent at a basketball game strikes a coach in anger. A home tutor is murdered by her student.

This is the collage of conflict that many in Howard County have come to fear. The ugly incidents cited above all occurred in the county in recent memory. They are evidence that local residents, like their neighbors elsewhere, can no longer ignore the spread of violence or the potential of being victimized. But it is a quantitative leap to be aware that anyone can be the target of violence and recognize that there are things people can do to avoid such tragedies. Helping people make that connection is the purpose of a survey on crime and violence that the Mediation and Conflict Resolution Center at Howard Community College recently conducted.

It was not surprising, as the survey revealed, that Howard residents feel they live in one of the safest communities in the country yet still are afraid of crime. What was revealing is that residents seem to realize that many acts of violence occur in or close to home and could be avoided.

Two-thirds of the respondents felt that strict gun control would help curb violence. Seventy-nine percent felt that having a gun in the home is more likely to harm someone living there. Seventy-eight percent thought that seeing violence in the home made a person more prone to commit violence.

Most important, 89 percent of the respondents believe that violence often occurs because people do not know how to resolve conflict. Having said that, many of those interviewed admitted they do not always have good conflict-resolution skills. Sadly, 30 percent felt that many conflicts could not be resolved by talking them out; 46 percent felt it is OK for a teen-ager to retaliate when struck, and 30 percent said it is acceptable for an adult to hit back.

No one is suggesting the most heinous crimes mentioned earlier could have been avoided by a simple chat. Still, many other small slights, misunderstandings and prejudices that too often lead to violence could be avoided. That is what the conflict resolution center's survey seeks to expose. The hope is that more people will be drawn to the center's training and mediation programs, or at least to the idea that there is something we can do to lessen the violence that we fear so much.

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