Stop me if you’ve heard this one:
The military travels to a foreign country. In doing so, members of the military, honourable sorts in general, attempt to keep the peace, and are killed for their trouble.
Afghanistan? Not in this case.
Iraq? Easy guess, but no.
Try Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Hull technician 1st Class Damon Crooks, 28, of West Palm Beach, Florida, attempted to break up a fight outside a Halifax bar, and as a reward for this effort, he is killed. He leaves behind an eight-months pregnant fiancee. Reports say that the fight was over a necklace. Oh, good, at least it wasn’t something trivial.
Much is being said about what should be done to combat this violence, including, but not limited to, changing the hours the bars are open. Oh, good. Now we can get the fights over with earlier in the evening, so we can spread the casualty statistics out. No longer will Sunday morning be so deadly. There is some gradual awareness emerging, given this incident as well as another in which four young men were beaten not far from there, that the downtown area can become volatile when alcohol is added. None of the proposed measures, however, will necessarily prevent violence – it may change the time and the place, which would no doubt please the Downtown Halifax Business Association to no end, but it will not eliminate it.
But, for some, relocation is and always has been sufficient.
What none of the reactive policies will address are the incidents of stabbings outside the downtown core (two in Dartmouth last night alone), and other acts such as swarmings that are taking place almost daily.
The perpetrator of the sailor’s murder was on parole – he had previously stabbed someone 14 times, and stabbed the victim’s girlfriend when she tried to intervene on his behalf. Clearly, this man had issues. There is no way he should have been within two blocks of a drinking establishment or a knife. But, our justice system being what it is, we have to give people the benefit of the doubt. The system is flawed, but until it is 100% correct in arrests, convictions and paroles (an unrealistic expectation), someone will be dissatisfied, and people will get hurt, both innocent and guilty.
In a broader sense, the perceived increase in violence in this area is reflective of trends seen across North America. On the one hand, due to the actions of a few, young men and women are being disenfranchised em masse. Young black men in particular suffer from the stigma placed on them by popular culture, which ultimately prejudices people against them and denies them legitimate opportunities for advancement.
Young black and white men and women are in turn influenced by this popular culture to create a self-fulfilling prophecy: “You think we are violent, well, we’ll show you what violent means.” The glamorized and romanticized ‘gangster’ culture is sometimes the only template available to follow – the lure of easy money and respect arising from fear is alluring to someone whose opinions and aspirations are dismissed.
Now, of course, I don’t blame popular culture for all of our societal ills – it is a reflection of society’s wants, and we get what we deserve in many cases. The profit motive in entertainment takes precedence over public good, which is logical, given that creating and maintaining morality is not the job of popular culture. It is supposed to inform and entertain, and, despite critical flaws, it serves its’ purpose. I wish it were that simple, that we could just reform the entertainment industry (snicker) and have all the problems solved. But, this is only one pillar in the structure of violence.
Parents are often substantially to blame. I know some parents, and my own personal experiences with them and their children leads me to believe that none of them will turn out to be serial killers. (Except for Kevvyd’s youngest. I’m not turning my back on that 3-year-old anytime soon…)
I kid, of course. Some parents, however, for whatever reason, are physically or emotionally absent, and don’t take the time to impart the ‘rules’ for civil behaviour. They rely on schools – which is fine except that schools impart knowledge, and some degree of self-discipline, but does not and should not impart morality. It’s not their role.
The most troubling pillar of the ‘violence tripod’ is the lack of simple social interaction skills. We live in a society that is a great facilitator of the agoraphobic – it is possible to interact with generalized others while never having any physical contact. Even between friends, it is possible to maintain relationships without the burden of physical presence. This can’t be good – we learn how to interact with others by actually interacting – trial and error, but at least we have examples to work from. In the absence of that, you do not learn how to deal with and respect others, nor they you, and violence can be the result. It’s easy for someone to ask the question “What’re you looking at?” when they legitimately don’t know how to interpret body language and posture. Everything is confusing, nothing has rules, and reactions are visceral and violent.
I don’t propose that I could fix any of these things. Nor will my going on at length solve anything or change the world. I simply want to point out that addressing the problem of violence at the end point will do nothing but move it elsewhere.
To truly make a difference, we need to rediscover what it means to act responsibly, and to be members of the community, and to make sure young people have their opinions fairly heard. A first step, no more.
They don’t emerge from the womb knowing right from wrong, there is no ‘goodness gene’. If we don’t take the time to teach them, how can we blame them for not knowing?