Mallahan Upsets the Dust on Youth Violence
Yet another “Joe Mallahan said” controversy has sprung up since last week’s Cinerama Mayoral Candidate forum, after this question was posed by James Donaldson, himself a former candidate for mayor:
“Rising crime violence in Seattle, escalating rate not just due to the bad economy or kids are out of school for the summer. What can we do about it? What are some of your ideas?”
Mallhan responded, in part:
“I think the outreach model we had before that was focused on adult males in particular. Although these days actually female gang..membership is rising. Adult role models who can be effective and credible in attacking the culture of self hatred that leads to the illogical behavior that you see with a young person joining a gang.”
(For his full answer, click here and fast forward to 1:09:00)
As word spread about what Mallahan had said, the emails and phone calls began.
One acquaintance asked if I thought the Mayoral candidate was “talking down to people of color”. He mentioned behavior, not race- though the behavior he spoke of does disproportionately impact youths of color.
The bigger question is, does a lack of self worth, positive role models and consistent, positive reinforcement lead some (if not all) to join gangs? It certainly is a very real factor.
Is there a culture of self hatred amongst young people? Do we really even need to ask that question? The answer is emphatically, hell yes.
I give Mallahan credit. With that one sentence he stepped beyond the simple reasoning of “more cops will fix everything”- the fact is, by the time the police are involved, 99.9% of the time it’s too late. The cycle and culture of “gang” life has most likely already taken hold.
We have to identify youths who are in gangs and give them incentives to get out, while also identifying those youths at risk and keep them from making the choice to join a gang- self esteem and positive role models play a part.
What a novel idea; to address and attempt to root out those factors which would make a youth turn down a troubled path to begin with. It’s not one or the other, people, it’s both at the same time.
It’s easy to say “let’s hire 200 more cops” or “let’s stiffen criminal penalties for youths that break the law”- neither of those will fix the problem, neither of those will eradicate gangs or prevent a youth from being shot as he minds his own business walking down the street. We’ve got to get much more in-depth about what is going on before we can begin to fix it.
Remember when we learned that drug addiction was best viewed as a disease that required treatment, rather than a crime for which the abuser should be punished? That’s when society began to understand that treatment was a more effective (and cheaper, btw) method for addressing drug addiction (and the crime that comes from it).
The same needs to happen for youth violence. Yes, youth violence should be examined and treated as a disease in our young people, and a disease in our communities. Such a prognosis is not without precedent. In 2001 the Surgeon General recognized the work of Dr. Joseph Mashall’s around youth violence as a disease. From his website:
“…violence is a social disease with an explicit treatment process. The disease is transmitted by the germs of bad information, bad instruction, bad advice, and bad examples that to young people appear to be good. Youth are exposed to these germs via their families, peers and neighborhoods; and through music, television, video games, and movies. The disease appears as techniques for survival when, in fact, the opposite is true. Infected youth do not survive, they only learn how to die or go to prison.”
And folks want to debate whether or not there is a culture of self hatred spread amongst the youth? Get real.
“But why is[Mallahan]talking about these things?” A blog reader asked me in an email, “it doesn’t sound right”.
Why? Because he’s White? White men aren’t allowed to care? White men aren’t allowed to try and make a difference? Now that’s just silly.
Mallahan has at least a 50/50 chance of being the Mayor of this city- of the entire city, which means he is responsible to everyone in it, even if it’s a challenge, and even if it requires things to be said that haven’t been said before, or that make people uncomfortable.
Overall, Seattle has gotten complacent in dealing with these kinds of issues. We tend to think “that’s them, not us”, when a young person is gunned down, or a young girl gets pregnant, or kids drop out of school, and that’s not true. We have to shake ourselves out of the delusion that somehow we’re walking around with individual force fields that prevent bad things from touching our lives or our kids or our neighborhoods.
We should encourage- no- we should demand that our elected officials, whoever they wind up being, take bold and comprehensive steps to address the issues plaguing our youth, and yes, at times that’s going to mean saying things that will make poeple squirm.
It’s a false argument to try and call Mallahan out for what he said simply because it raised eyebrows. It’s also BS to think what he said was meant as an insult or an attack (or pointing blame) on a certain group of people based on race; take a breath and get over yourselves.
If our elected officials acted on issues only in such a way as to make people comfortable nothing of substance would ever get done.