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Makes me wanna holler -- throw up both my hands!!!

I was standing at the back of the dimly lit dance. I must have been 15 years young at the time. I lacked a great deal of experience partying up to that point in my life, so I was wired and ready to “party.” Something told me I was going to have a night I would never forget. I have never forgotten that night. I guess “something” was right on a night so wrong!

Peering through the blurred maze of people amidst the shadowy dance hall I noticed there was a flashing light suddenly flickering by the door on the far side of the room. I suddenly realized that flickering light was a series of gunshots erupting. Quickly looking across the room, trying to take in the reaction to the gunshots at the same time trying to decide if I should run for a door, or lay flat on the floor, I noticed across the room a guy in a corner loading a shotgun. Of course, that really got my attention, almost to the point of me freaking out, but I kept my cool in check long enough to realize I needed to get far away from him before he successfully loaded and engaged his weapon. As I scanned the room for an exit far away from him I saw the first shooting victim I would encounter that night. I only saw a glimpse of him because I was stepping around and over people like I was playing bumper hopscotch, only with much more at stake. You couldn’t avoid body contact and stepping on people because they were either falling or diving to the floor. Most others were running, but in the dark you were either hearing the thuds or thudding into someone yourself. And then there were the screams of anguish by the many people who ran to the doors only to find many of them chained. That night, over 10 people were shot. Fortunately I don’t recall anyone dying that night, though it was still one of those Blair Witch moments, only before Blair Witch was ever conceived, and very, very real!

This was not inner city L.A., but the recreation park at Ladera Heights. Ladera Heights is a neighborhood that was definitely upscale in its day, not necessarily at the level of Beverly Hills, though some of its residents/nearby residents definitely could have lived in Beverly Hills if they had chosen (Tina and Ike Turner, Ray Charles). So how odd is it that this type of violence could occur in such an upper middle class environment? Not that violence doesn’t erupt in all communities. Of course it does! But would you be surprised to discover that the entire incident evolved around a denial of entrance to the dance to a group of young men from outside the community. Also, it was allegedly over a leather coat that was demanded by one of the pseudo gangsters from a not so innocent bystander. The details being whatever they are, I’m curious as to your take on the fact that one group’s inability to pay, or desire not to pay, and desire over a coat that wouldn’t have been desired if it could have been easily afforded by both combatants, were the criteria for the outsiders taking defiant, violent action and “turning the party out.”

Would a very wealthy group of students resort to violence over the admission price to a dance and attempt to end it? Why-Why not? Would a middle class group of students resort to violence in the same situation? Why-Why not? So, why would the underclass youth be resorting to such actions?

Oh, and for the record, this incident happened in a predominantly black neighborhood. It was overwhelmingly attended by black folk. So, before you logically gravitate towards thoughts on black on black crime (often considered internalized racism/self hatred), recognize that the motivating factor might have been classism or the inner workings-consequences of capitalism. If not that, what? Lastly, are people born with their morality in place, or are those values learned within a society that celebrates individual prosperity and looks away from social poverty. As Marvin Gaye once swooned “What’s Goin On?”

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Comments

My first inclination would be to examine the offenders and their backgrounds. While I believe a person is born with a unique personality, consistent negative environmental factors can have a profound and detrimental effect on a young person's psyche. Were they feeling so powerless in their own lives, that they felt the need to cross into someone else's life and exert their power as violence? Were they taught (brainwashed) to resent and hate by their parents and/or peers? Were they themselves targets of violence on a regular basis? Unfortunately, many young people live by example and become a product of their own environment. Were they mentally ill or under the influence of drugs or alchohol? Or, is it a combination of all or some of these factors? I do believe that some individuals have the inner strength and inborn qualities to overcome their environmental factors and achieve great things while others seem helplessly impaired.

J.W.
You once asked me what I meant by calling myself a "law and order liberal." Well, here you go - no one and/or nothing is more responsible for what those people did than they are. One's own choices play a larger role in one's own life than anything else. The question of class is secondary, perhaps even irrelevent. I believe there are bad people in the world; those who, for whatever reason, choose not to conform even to societiy's most basic norms of decency. Some of the shoot up schools, (Virginia Tech, Columbine). Some of them rule(d) countries (Saddam Hussein/Hitler). And some of them shoot up teen dances - as in your case. None of the "villians" in any of those scenarios (except yours) came from what anyone would consider poor, under-privledged or abusive backgrounds.
Rather, I believe some of us have an overwhelming sense of entitlement combined with no social or personal concience. "I will have what I want without regard for my own well-being or anyone elses." It doesn't matter if the object of desire is a leather jacket, admission to a dance, or a pair of Rebocks. The person feels they are owed and everyone else be damned.
Perhaps this is a repressed instinct - a hold-over from cave-dwelling days when one had to take what one needed to survive, sometimes at the expense of others and/or the environment. Animals do not feel remorse when they kill for food. Remorse is unique to the human species. Even soldiers and crime victims often express remorse at having to do in their enemy/attacker at the moment of truth.
Perhaps the youths in your story were born with less capacity for empathy than most of us. If you combine that with poor parenting and an environment that celebrates violence, perhaps you have a recipe for the disaster you discribe.
But my point is, those kids could have had the best parents in the world, or the worst. They could have lived in the best part of town, or the most dangerous. All of those factors are far, far less important than their own choices in those moments. I believe that each of us has the capacity to rise above our circumstances, OR to "blow it" despite having all of life's advantages. Our own choices are the key.

As I jumped to respond to this blog, I became aware of a smile on my face. Why the hell would I be smiling? There is certalinly nothing remotely "happy" or "funny" about this blog. When I thought about it, I realized that what I was feeling was relief, and the relief was about the fact that this blog was not about sex. I became aware that, as sexy and compelling as those previous 2 blogs were- and they were- they also created some anxiety. There is tension in talking - and writing publicly about sex, way more so, I think, than writing about race and even class. I am wondering if this is true for others? It feels somehow more personal to put my views about sex out there than my views on race or class. Or else it is simply a matter of being more comfortable with those other aspects of my identity vs. my sexuality. The other piece of tension, I think, was about the PG aspect of the blog. How far can one go in this medium? How far is too far? Will I get myself into some trouble? Will the blog master get himself into some trouble? etc.

OK- onto this blog. The first thing is that I can't seem to move to deconstruction and reaction to the violence at the dance without first reacting to the plight of the 15 year -young boy/man expecting a wonderful and memorable time having fun at a dance- and winding up jumping over frightened and injured bodies in a frantic effort to stay alive. I can't imagine the terror of realizing that those were gunshots and having to recompute from anticipation of pleasure to strategy for survival. That just makes me mad and it makes me sad, and yes, Marvin, and JW, it makes me wanna holler.

Now, as to the hows and whys and whats about the "event" I am glad I waited until edr and Card Buddy weighed in because my views fall somewhere in the middle. Like Card Buddy, I sometimes see myself as a law and order liberal. I want and expect people to take responsibility for their actions and to act in a civilized way. I expect people to value human life and to contain their own rage and frustration in such a way that others don't have to be victimized. I expect reasonable laws to be followed and unreasonable ones to be fought and changed. I want to feel safe and I want the world to be safe for others. I think a person should reasonably be able to attend a dance and not get shot at.

That said, there are "explanations" for things even if they don't qualify as legitmate "excuses". I think edr was expressing this. All of the psychological and sociological aspects of what may have motivated the violence (poor or absent parenting, chronic exposure to violence, influence of drugs, anger and frustration at an unfair, classist and racist system, etc) do need to be considered. The question, it seems to me is, to what extent is the individual responsible for what he/she does and what part of the responsilbilty does society have for providing the backdrop? How do we hold the indivudual accountable while noting that the socety which creates the context for the event, needs to change? And, how do we begin to make those changes? I am so curious. When asked of the shooters, "What were you thinking?" - what would their answers have been? And what do we do with those answers?

In the meantime, I want to be safe from folks who feel that they are entitled to things that are not theirs or to act on angry impulses, whether justifed or not. I want that 15 year-old and mine -to be able to just dance.

I'll start by pointing out that we aren't born unique, but blank, with the ability to create our uniqueness, whatever that may be. But the moment we abandon the womb and share air with others, our freedom to define our own "uniqueness" is steadily devoured by the world surrounding us and its inhabitants.

Second, to announce we are all able to choose our path with ease, as if it's merely a matter of snapping our fingers and saying, "I know longer want to be a 'crack w....,' 'gang banger,' or 'abuser and victimizer,'" borders on naivety.

I spent three years the victim in an abusive relationship, felt that fear, loss of control, sense of worthlessness and inability to escape. I quickly turn defensive when I hear, "Well, if he's dumb enough to stay in that relationship...," and "If she doesn't like being hit, leave."

I know firsthand the demons passed by parents; submission, fear of confrontation and an urge to please. I can also flip the coin to control, deception and selfishness.

Babies don't burst onto the scene and think, "I wanna rob and shoot people, I wanna die young, I wanna suppress and oppress others." The environment they're trapped in molds that meanness, and breaking the mold isn't as easy as saying, "enough is enough." Not only are years of conditioning difficult to overcome, but there's also the matter of the controls put in place by those who helped create such a chaotic and corrupt system, from which they benefit by not truly attempting to fix.

I wouldn't have stayed with an abusive partner if it was as simple as deciding, "I don't want to do this anymore."
A parent wouldn't choose crack or heroin over its child if gathering the adequate parenting skills and shrugging off damaged parts was as simple as, well, shrugging it off.
And America's youth wouldn't snuff out life so casually if they had not been raised in a system that treated them as if they were expendable and inconsequential.

I'm not saying drop accountability, I'm simply stressing don't minimize the circumstances surrounding the situations we encounter throughout our lives and the factors that contribute to our actions.

Of course, when there are still people out there who believe war is about morality or saving the world and can't penetrate the illusion and realize wealth and power run the show, it's no surprise so many of us fail to disect the realities of situations such as were described by JW. And as long as we continue to paticipate in the system that is abusing us, we'll continue to spend billions on wars spurred by greed instead of rebuilding our own society in a humanistic fashion.

"Ooohhhh,
What's goin' on - what's goin on,
What's goin' on - what's goin' on."

P.S.
The only reason there is such anxiety, shame and hesitation to discuss sex openly is because we allow there to be. If we so chose, conversations about sexuality could be constructed and communicated the same as as discussions about dieting, dodgeball and Dr. Pepper (Can I get a kickback for dropping the last word?:))

Concealed weapons, hatred, emo kids, goth kids, gangsta kids, preppies, frat boys, sorority sisters, druggies, townies, gay/lesbians, "straighties" ... Think I'm describing NYC??? Perhaps~ but more specifically, I'm describing downtown Plattsburgh on any given night after 9 pm. JW, you try so hard to make people think beyond themselves, to see the forest through the trees, to care about their brother, to want to see change ..... and so do I. Unfortunately, while we "want" and "try", society is becoming more and more separated .... each group a unit of their own, with their own "leaders", "music", "clothing styles" ..... etc. It's no wonder that violence such as you described is not only occuring so much more frequently, but with less and less remorse.... and most shocking of all ~~ more acceptance and complacency at its occurance. So often when we hear of events like the one you described, many will say "such is the way of the world these days" .... or "Hey, whatcha gonna do?" ....... and shake their heads as they walk away "accepting" the inevitablity of hearing about yet another such "event" in the near future. ~~ You and I, and so many others want the world to be a better place ... a place where people can accept one another, respect one another, unite and care about one another ..... and we target "college campuses" primarily as the place to "get the message out there". Do you think we are missing the boat a bit?? Why aren't we discussing these issues with our elementary school aged children, middle school aged children, high school young adults? Oh I know, you go to the area schools ... and provide them with wonderful workshops on diversity ..... probe their brains .... and try to make them think "outta the box:". And yet, instead of seeing our children "come together, right now" ..... we are seeing more and more isolation, separation .... choosing a "group" that thinks as they do. Are we being effective? I fear we are not. The changes we hope to see must be cultivated in our young, from VERY early in their formative school years .. where for most, they make their first "choice" on which group to join... which music to "prefer", which kids "rock" and which ones don't. Perhaps at the college level, we can reach a few. And if we do, BRAVO, for its hard to "untrain" a pattern that has been "condoned" for so many years. But I fear, as I watch those groups of young adults in downtown Plattsburgh, that we aren't getting the message to them soon enough. Their world is full of seperatism, uniformity in thinking, dressing, musical persuasion ...a place where there is little accountability for anything, because "thats the way of the world now-a-days" .... It makes we wanna "throw up both my hands" ... and ask ..... where do we go from here?

*** CC, Wow! It is hard for me to completely disagree with your perspective on today's youth, but I will challenge the essence of one of the things you were saying with this thought: Upon a college campus, we educate leaders who will have the chance to enter our world and change it. Be they teachers themselves, business leaders, solid citizens, and'/or parents, if we impart our message(s) to them in ways that they understand and care to further invest in, then we do enhance the probability of changing the world.

Many, if not most of the students that you described are floundering, trying to find something that they can invest in as their own. As educators if we can enlighten them that they actually are co-owners of our world, then they make take ownership in ending the pollution that threatens to one day kill us all. Some might call your perspective on the state of affairs a pessimistic one. I don't! When you are in the trenches with many our youth of today it is very difficult to believe that they will one day actualize the promise of their future. However, as you mentioned when you referenced my external outreach into the various schools of the North Country, I see the light turned on in the eyes of so many that I can't help but optimistically expect them to fulfill that promise. However, if it takes a village to raise a child, what does it take to raise a society beyond its scars, xenophobia, self centeredness, jealousy, etc.? I believe the answer is engaged education that energizes and enlightens. So, get that energy up CC, we have a whole lot more work to do!!! *** -- J.W.

I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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