Teaching choice could spare children from guns

By PAT WATSON

Human targets are falling again in Toronto, likely the result of that potent mix of drugs, guns, testosterone, youth and poverty. Most recently, someone shot and killed 14-year-old Adrian Johnston at point blank range in the city’s west end, not far from the bus stop where 18-year-old Jarvis St. Remy, was shot weeks earlier.

There have been 18 persons murdered in Toronto this year, but these young men share in common that they were killed in the area in and around Lawrence Ave. to the north and St. Clair Ave. to the south, Scarlett to the west and the Keele Street/Old Weston Road corridor to the east.

Others in the same vicinity who have had their lives terminated by persons with guns include Basil Bryan, 23; Jahmelle Grant, 26; Omar Waite, 29; Daniel Lewis, 19 and Daniel Dasilva, 22. Eighteen-year-old Kevin Boateng died from stab wounds. It looks as if Toronto has a new hotspot.

How are we as a city dealing with this increasingly threatening trend? We may conclude that, as long as we are not young, Black and male that we are relatively clear of the shooters’ intent, but we know that to be false.

To get a handle on reckless youth in some countries, Cuba being one of many examples, young men and women are conscripted to military service for a couple of years where they encounter a rigorous and disciplined existence. And it has been argued that similar structures here might be an answer, since crime rates tend to be lower among youth in countries that have mandatory conscription. In other words they are more constructively occupied, so all that youthful energy can be meaningfully directed. It is highly unlikely that will take effect here any time soon.

Yet, the need to reach out to vulnerable youth as early as possible is urgent. Young children living in an economically depressed and racially disadvantaged environment understand their condition in very short order. They get the message that the odds are against them, that not much is expected of them, and that life is ‘nasty, brutish and short’. They see their world as such because that is the picture they are presented.

What children who are born in disadvantaged circumstances need to be told and made to understand as soon as possible and at the same time that they are facing the bleak reality of their surroundings is that regardless of their present situation, they have choice. They have to be made aware they that can choose what they do, who they associate with, and how they think about themselves and the lives they want. They must be made aware that they do not have to become victims of their surroundings, but survivors of it.

This is an important message at all times, but especially for these children because so many are followers, and not readily conscious of the fact that in life we can choose what to do or how to be in any given situation. In truth, almost without exception, we have choice.

The awareness of personal choice is at the same time the awareness of personal power and control.

If these shootings are responses in anger, then we have to let kids know that there are at least two things that cause people to act in anger. One is ignorance – so that when we don’t have all the pertinent information we get angry; the other is giving our personal power over to another person.

When a person demands respect or demands not to be disrespected, he is in fact giving his personal power over to another. Self-respect cannot be given or taken away. A person who has self-respect has personal power. A person who has self-respect understands that he has choices and is free to make them as well as live with the consequences of his choices. But a person who has a poor sense of his own worth is vulnerable to someone else’s ideas of who he is or isn’t, what he is worth…or not worth.

Beginning this practice of choosing can be as elementary as giving a child the choice between ice cream or cake, between a colouring book or a book of puzzles, or between a game of basketball and an hour of TV. Once he is given choices and understands that he has choices, it will become a part of how he consciously manages his life. He will know that the lifestyle of the gun is not a given, but a choice.

On a note of protest…

With two former U.S. presidents in town this Friday, one being the now infamous George W. Bush, anti-war/anti-Bush protesters will amass to ‘welcome’ them. Without a doubt, different from President Barack Obama’s welcome in Ottawa.

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