Mythologies may differ, violence doesn’t

  • Saturday, June 23, 2007 7:00pm
  • Opinion

Different communities spawn different mythologies.

In upper-class suburban enclaves, teen-on-teen violence is embodied in the popular mind by the dark-clad outcast, shunned in regular social circles and living in embittered silence until erupting in a fit of mass-violence against classmates and peers. In inner cities, the character is less studied, more everyday; death comes by the hands of young people disaffected by larger socio-economic ills, their rage manifesting itself in regular, random outbursts against folks in other neighborhoods or strangers who wander into their own.

In upscale communities, the mythology plays out only sporadically, in headline-grabbing flare-ups on campuses like Columbine or Virginia Tech. In others, the violence is endless in the streets and sidewalks and parks.

Communities like Bainbridge Island have the Police Blotter, chronicling the pratfalls of local shoplifters, vandals and drunks; those like Los Angeles have the Homicide Report, whose cold point of fact speaks to a different reality entirely.

Go online (www.latimes.com) and read the latter, and you come away with a much different and deeper appreciation of the plague of youth violence and its impact on lives and communities. A privileged enclave like our own tends to meet any significant deviation from the social norm – like the posting of ominous notes on a high school building, promising gun violence against specific students and the school population at large – with a certain befuddlement or disbelief; our young people could never be involved in this. How vast seems our remove from a community where violence is the social norm into which young people accede.

The Times’ most recent Homicide Report notes the death of a young man named Dovon, a high school sophomore gunned down during beginning-of-summer revelries outside his school. He and friends tried to get away from a scuffle, but gunmen followed in a vehicle and fired with deadly effect. Then there is the murder of Dion, a gifted young college student who got off the bus in an unfamiliar neighborhood to visit his sister, and within minutes was shot down for wearing the wrong colors. These are among several dozens killings so chronicled, any one of which would be banner news on Bainbridge and to which we consider ourselves somehow innately immune.

And yet earlier this week, threats of unimaginable violence visited the Bainbridge High School campus. Those who’ve read the messages left anonymously on school doors are shaken by the author’s words. No one has admitted responsibility for the words; our law enforcement and justice systems are running their course in trying to determine the perpetrator. Was it just a sick joke? A portent mercifully unfulfilled? We don’t know. But we do know this: someone out there knows exactly who is responsible, because they wrote those words or have the confidence of whomever did. And while the language implies a familiar, comfortably improbable mythology, its remove from the very real violence of other, larger communities isn’t even one of degrees.

Someone needs to come forward, because someone needs help. The mythologies may change, but the ending is the same.

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