Each time a young man guns down another on the streets of New Orleans, experts promote comprehensible explanations for such incomprehensible crimes. While authorities correctly blame horrific acts of street violence on an eclectic range of emotional, economic, political and sociological factors, they rarely acknowledge that many of the remorseless killers were, as children, raised in domestic war zones.
It is unfair that we allow children to be reared in violent homes and expect them to develop into functional teenagers. Domestic war zones are incubators for emotional instability. They are where the seeds of dysfunction are planted. They are where many innocent children are transformed into cold and detached predators. Such homes impregnate a child with rage that often spills onto the streets of our city.
Troubled kids are quick to collude with each other in search of acceptance and oneness. They live on society's edge without being properly addressed. Their rage is allowed to germinate within a socially toxic urban environment and often ends in the killing of one another. Sometimes it ends in the murder of someone we know.
Since 1976, as senior probation officer at New Orleans Municipal Court, I have personally screened more than 50,000 cases of domestic violence. My experiences have left me with a sense of outrage toward men who terrorize women and their children. Women should not go to sleep each night fearing someone who should be protecting them, but too often they do. Children should not have to flee to shelters with their mothers in fear of someone who claims to love them, but too often they must.
The most tragic aspect of my job is that I am now seeing second-generation batterers and victims. Many of the little boys that I saw three decades ago have grown up to be abusers, while the little girls raised in such homes have grown to be the abused. The most frightening aspect of my job is what I believe to be a geometric progression. Conservatively speaking, batterers emotionally impact an average of three children. If such children grow up to impact three of their own, you have nine. Nine becomes 27 and the intergenerational transmission of home and community violence accelerates beyond comprehension.
While it is very frustrating for me to try to convince others of the potential lethality that batterers present to their victims, it is more troubling for me to convey the catastrophic psychological damage that is done to the children. It is not by chance, but by design, that there is an eerie similarity between the detached young men who kill on the streets and those men who kill in the privacy of the bedroom. It is extraordinary how often the present travels into the future to repeat the past.
Before Hurricane Katrina, only a limited number of agencies offered counseling, sports and mentoring programs to the troubled youth of New Orleans. In the storm's aftermath, many agencies that provided kids with positive influences and role models have been destroyed. Many programs operated by the YWCA, NORD and neighborhood schools and churches sit silent amid urban decay. Children who once sought their guidance and direction spend much of their days with virtually nothing to do.
I am not advocating leniency for the remorseless thugs who stalk the streets of our city. They must be dealt with harshly by law enforcement and our criminal justice system. Those who commit murder and other abominable crimes should be imprisoned and never released. For every hardened criminal that we incarcerate, however, there are several who will take his place on the streets. While cameras will deter criminal activity from one area, it will simply push it into another.
There is no doubt that reactive crime initiatives are of utmost importance in curtailing the "Category 5" crime wave that has inundated our city. The causes of why innocent children evolve into detached adults, however, also must be addressed proactively.
Unless we reach out to children who are trapped in harsh environments and consumed with despair, many will develop into the next generation of super-predators. Like the current criminals, they will find one another and conspire in the shadows of night. Their pathological rage will make Katrina seem like a small blip on a radar screen.
Unless we offer the children of New Orleans proactive choices that bring balance to their troubled existence, the reactive measures of today will result in little change tomorrow.
Michael Groetsch is the author of He Promised He'd Stop. He can be reached at email@example.com.
- Unless we reach out to children who are trapped in harsh environments and consumed with despair, many will develop into the next generation of super-predators.