For the second week in a row my featured article of the week comes from the Sunday Milwaukee Journal Crossroads section of the newspaper. This time it is an article from a local citizen of a rural area near Milwaukee who clearly explains our American society’s addiction to violence and its consequences.

Jasmine’s death was collateral damage in a culture of violence

Posted: June 9, 2007 in the Crossroads Section of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Last month, the Journal Sentinel published a series of articles by reporter Sarah Carr examining the growing problem of violence in schools, particularly those in Milwaukee.

When I read them, I found myself thinking: “Why would anyone be surprised that young people are violent?” Children imitate the behavior they see modeled for them by adults, and we, as a society, are addicted to violence.

We surround our children with it. We worship it and glorify it. And whether we call its perpetrators “heroes” or “thugs,” we sensationalize it.

The media are saturated with violence: violent movies and television programs, violent video games, song lyrics promoting violence.

The news media emphasize violence. (If it bleeds, it leads.) In order to satisfy our addiction, we continue to rationalize and justify our use of violence.

And we have foolishly refused to consider abandoning the tools that amplify our violence: our guns and missiles and bombs.

On April 4, 1967, exactly one year to the day before he was assassinated in Memphis, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressed an audience of 3,000 people at the Riverside Church in New York City. That day, King confessed: “As I have walked among the desperate, rejected and angry young men, I have told them that Molotov cocktails and rifles would not solve their problems. I have tried to offer them my deepest compassion while maintaining my conviction that social change comes about most meaningfully through non-violent action.

“But they asked, and rightly so, ‘What about Vietnam?’ They asked if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government.”

If we substitute “handguns and Uzis” for “Molotov cocktails and rifles” and “Iraq” for “Vietnam,” wouldn’t King’s words apply today? Aren’t our young people just learning what we are teaching them?

The week after I read the newspaper articles, Jasmine Owens, who was only 4 years old, was killed by a stray bullet while she was jumping rope in front of her home.

Like everyone else, I mourned the loss of this innocent child. Her death was a heartbreaking example of our addictive pattern.

When we “liberated” Iraq, thousands of innocent children were killed. The military calls their deaths “collateral damage.”
The young man who pulled the trigger that ended Jasmine’s life wasn’t aiming at her. He thought he was justified in firing at a rival or an enemy.

Jasmine’s death was collateral damage. I worry that our continued addiction to violence is producing the additional collateral damage of the desensitization of our hearts and the deadening of our souls.
We have to find a way to stop the violence, all of it, from the violence perpetrated by gangs on the streets of Milwaukee to the violence bought and paid for by our tax dollars and administered by those in power in the halls of Washington, D.C.

The first step to overcoming any addiction is to acknowledge that we are addicted. Let’s face it - we can’t even enjoy watching a hockey game unless a fight breaks out.

Just as important, we need to recognize that many people are profiting from our addiction. The military/industrial complex, about which President Eisenhower warned us, has been rolling along unchecked for decades now.

With so much of our economy devoted to war and the preparation for war, is it any wonder that our so-called leaders feel the need to hold “military inventory sales” from time to time? How else would you explain our involvement in one military exercise after another, each one justified by ever more egregious lies?

There will be no single or easy way to overcome our addiction to violence. We would certainly benefit from a re-examination of the ideas of King and those of Mahatma Gandhi, from whom King learned so much.

It wouldn’t hurt to reread the Sermon on the Mount every once in a while and to try to take it seriously.
At the very least, we should begin teaching our children that violence only begets violence and that we will never solve our problems by resorting to it.

Gandhi once pointed out: “An eye for eye will make the whole world blind.”

We cannot bring Jasmine or any of the other innocent victims of our addiction to violence back to life.
But in her memory, let’s put an end to collateral damage by doing all we can to stop inflicting damage in the first place.

Daniel Grego lives in Ixonia

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