Monday, August 16, 2004

A shooting at the laundromat

Today, being off from work, I took my clothes to a laundromat at the Berkeley-Oakland border. While sitting there reading a book, I heard a series of explosions that sounded either like firecrackers or gunfire. Unfortunately it turned out to be the latter. Several gunshots were fired at a black teenage kid, from what I understand, and although police and ambulance arrived soon afterwards, his chances of survival are very slim. The police cordoned off the area and I took my wet clothes to another laundromat.

I had just been thinking of another shooting that occurred last week. An 18-year-old black student from De La Salle, considered the most valuable football player of the best high school football team in the nation, had a full scholarship to the University of Oregon and was preparing to leave for the school in a few days. Instead he was shot and killed while sitting in a car in his Richmond neighborhood. Another teenager who had been a fellow athlete of his has been arrested, and now the suspect's 15-year-old brother is being sought.

Later in the day I went to the veterinary clinic to pick up some medicine for my cat and got into a conversation with a young black woman who works there. She is attending a Bible college and preparing for the ministry by working with inner school kids, trying to help break the cycle of drugs, gangs and violence. I said to her it must be very hard for someone growing up in that environment to resist peer pressure to join gangs and become trapped into this extremely self-destructive lifestyle.

What are the causes for this situation and how can the vicious cycle be broken? There are no easy answers, but I believe part of the problem is that many black youth don't see that much hope for them in the present system. It isn't easy to rise from the ghetto and overcome substandard schools to reach the American dream of a stable job and a home of one's own. We live in a society where jobs are becoming harder to find and the gap between rich and poor ever widens.

But another part of the problem is cultural. Bill Cosby and others have addressed this problem, that some aspects of the black youth culture seem to encourage gangster behavior. Not to single out black culture, it is a problem among other ethnic groups too. In any case, the change cannot just come from outside aid, ultimately it must come from within the culture itself, within the neighborhood, and within the heart of each individual.

My friend at the veterinary clinic who is working to help inner city kids is a real hero for our society, as much a hero as the soldiers who go to Iraq. Maybe if we could revitalize programs such as the Vista corps, and provide more funds for educational program, that might help overcome this tragic situation today of senseless killings, where young people with their whole lives ahead of them instead die in a hail of gunfire on a neighborhood street corner.


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