In the early nineties I taught at an inner city public school for many years. Mostly second grade. Seven year olds. One morning, one of my students, a very bright and hard working little boy, seemed distracted and withdrawn. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about and he burst into tears. He went on to tell me that the night before, his mother had asked his father to go out and get some milk and eggs at the store and that his father had been shot in the head and in the heart. My first thought was that it couldn’t have happened but then other children started talking about a cousin who had gotten shot riding his bicycle in the neighborhood and a brother who had gotten beaten to death when he was hanging out after school one day… The stories went on and on and turned into conversations about sexual violence and blow job clubs.
At lunchtime, I went to my principle and asked what I should do. I didn’t feel like the conversation should be ignored and I didn’t think it was reasonable to expect any academic learning from children who were dealing with these things at home. I was told that what happened at home was not my problem. I was told that teaching was my job and that I should go back into the classroom after lunch and do my job.
Fast forward to 2013. There is a new game out there called The Knockout Game which is beginning to get more media attention as the game has spread not only throughout American cities but has reached London, England as well. The Knockout Game seems to be comprised of very young black children targeting random innocent people (men, woman with children, in some areas jews specifically) and knocking them out with a single punch. Some of the knockouts have been serious beatings beyond the first punch.
It’s a very frightening prospect from any perspective. It’s also not a surprising result of the lives these children must be living. In the media, there are bad guys and good guys. Its a black and white (pun intended) situation that in my opinion targets the wrong questions and ignores the real issues at hand. As a people we have let these children down. We have allowed them to become inured to pain, violence and death. We have not offered alternatives to ghetto living nor have we offered support. We have not given them examples of consequences for actions that are relevant to their worlds. Even as recently as the Trayvon Martin case, these children have been shown time and time again that violence and death are no more than par for the course. The Knockout Game has been a reality for these children all of their lives. At any moment, they or a person they know might be hurt or killed without reason. So why wouldn’t something that seems so horrific for those of us outside of that perspective seem like a game to them.
I’m not arguing in favor of this terrifying game. I’m arguing for a solution beyond incarceration and judgement. I’m arguing for a more humane way of behaving as a society that doesn’t allow for the numbness of conscience and the detachment from life that brings about these tides of violence.