I don’t pretend to have all of the answers. I know, I don’t even have half. What I do know is that I’m witnessing increasing violence all around me and we, as a community, need to have a serious conversation about it.
Eight months ago, I wrote what was little more than a love letter to Salem downplaying another article that beat up the town. It generated a lot of feedback both good and bad. Ultimately, as a journalist, my goal is to generate conversation. I was thrilled with the response. It was, however, interesting to see how it was received.
Comments of all kinds poured in. There were those like there are on any subject that wanted to take every opportunity they could to bash the topic. There were also those that are continually trying to make their community better who were thankful and shared sentiment. What was lacking and would have been the most crucial response was the call to action. Don’t be arrogant enough to point fingers at Salem, either. Denial is the most powerful drug around.
Pennsville has been bombarded by heroin and has been for a very long time. Penns Grove has had shootings and violence of all kinds, Woodstown certainly isn’t perfect. All of our municipalities have serious issues to address. The biggest problem in my mind is that we aren’t addressing it as people. We’re trying to look at it town by town and point fingers while denying common issues.
It’s a weird thing to watch when you step back. It’s almost like high school sports rivalries dictated life long divisions within our community. It is a very small and closed minded approach to life that does nothing more than divide us from our humanity. Humanity. Isn’t that so much more important than what your school colors are?
John Lennon tried to make that point on a much larger scale with his song “Imagine” so many years ago. What’s the point of division? Let’s talk about our commonality.
We had a young man murdered recently in Salem. His family, in an interview with the South Jersey Times, stated that he wasn’t a trouble maker and was all about his kids. All eight of them. Then we find out he was a gang member and the subsequent shootings were retaliatory.
By no means am I trying to demonize this one individual. The loss of life is a loss of life. It should be mourned. The story, however, is a microcosm of the problem. The man’s gang affiliation wasn’t a gang of community activism. It was a group of nefarious activity with a notorious reputation. His family spoke of him as a good person with love in his heart. He was, however, part of a larger whole that didn’t value life.
It doesn’t matter if you are stiflingly religious or a complete atheist, if there is no respect for a human life, what is there? This isn’t a gun problem, either.
The video of a Salem McDonald’s employee, identified as LaTia Harris who was still at large as of last night, beating a young mother in front of her toddler, involved no firearms but was in my opinion more full of violence and hate than a shooting. In front of the child, Harris mounted the victim and repeatedly pounded her in the face, stood and began to kick her repeatedly. You can see the child trying to kick Harris while his mom is being pummeled yelling for Harris to stop. Harris threatened to kick the toddler in the face for his efforts. What makes this particular video so bad? The dozen people watching, filming, or walking by like nothing was happening.
Now I don’t know ultimately how either of these stories I’ve touched on truly started. I won’t speculate and neither should you. The real point is that it shouldn’t come to these situations ever.
Semantics should be taught in sixth grade instead of college. Words only have the power you lend to them. I know we all have our bad days and I’m far from perfect, but what could have transpired for anyone to find it acceptable to brutally beat a woman in front of her child? Why do gangs take on the world with violence? We could quote thesis, papers, and dissertations until we’re blue in the face but what, ultimately are we doing to each other?
Let’s take it out of Salem. There was a family I saw on the news just a couple of months ago trying to sue another family because the father of family A broke into family B’s home and was killed in his robbery attempt. People were rallying behind family A’s dead father, not the victims of the break in.
While I might have a dog, physical size, and some defensive knowledge, I’d have done the same thing as family B. Why? Because if the father of family A got away from my home and broke into the 87 year old woman’s house a block up next week things would have been very different.
We as people have crossed so many lines and savored so much denial that we cannot accept fault for the most basic of all principals, and it disgusts to the core.
What happened? We’re a generation away from entire neighborhoods parenting children. I know people in their thirties can remember playing two blocks over when the street lights came on and your mother would yell for you only to be echoed by two more mothers telling you to get home.
Remember school discipline? It used to be you’d come home to report that your teacher gave you detention and you’d quickly be asked what you did to deserve it so you could receive your real punishment at home. Generations before me will tell you about ruler cracks on knuckles and being hit with chalkboard erasers. Now, if a teacher even raises their voice in protest of poor behavior they have to endure a meeting with the parent and administration because our “babies” are never wrong.
It starts at home. We need to get back to community involvement. “It takes a village….”
I know, it is so very hard to earn a living wage and I know that only gets harder with children. I know that means that you have to work more and be home less. That’s why it is so important to build your community. Talk with your neighbors. Teach your children respect. Use programs like Big Brothers and Big Sisters, the Salem County YMCA, community gardens and parks. Get to know one another again. Violence is on such a rise because neighborhoods are on such a decline.
The solution is us. The solution is you. Even if you don’t have children, act in a way that you would want a child to model. Encourage positive behavior and peaceful resolution. Stop watching horrible “reality” TV that glorifies unacceptable behavior. Read to your kids. Care about yourself. You may not realize it but that comes across to the people around you.
We may not be able to fix everything like a light switch, but you could start right now. You could make yourself and the people around you more positive today. You could watch out for the kid down the block, encourage positive behavior, and be a source for peace to the world around you. We can no longer point fingers at neighboring towns, income lines, skin colors, religions, or any other division you can conjure.
It starts with us. It starts with you.