Ah, those teenagers…

Kids these daysAnyone else a bit fatigued with the “kids these days” grousing which has consumed altogether too much time and space in the wake of the Martin case verdict?   We old folk could at least come up with something more original.

We live in a decaying age. Young people no longer respect their parents. They are rude and impatient. They frequently inhabit taverns and have no self control.”  Inscription in a 6000 year old Egyptian tomb.  (Buckminster Fuller, in I Seem To Be A Verb“)

So, the ancient Egyptians created a culture that still fascinates us today with its monuments and technology… in spite of, or perhaps because of youthful ideas?

However, that didn’t keep the curmudgeonly Socrates from blathering, perhaps ironically, in response to inquiries :

“Then, as I was saying, our youth should be trained from the first in a stricter system, for if amusements become lawless, and the youths themselves become lawless, they can never grow up into well-conducted and virtuous citizens […] Thus educated, they will invent for themselves any lesser rules which their predecessors have altogether neglected.”  (Plato’s Republic Book 4)

Someone must have done something correctly — we’re still studying the mathematics and philosophy of the Classical Greeks.  Perhaps we should progress toward a more modern view?

There are these comments from a budding Artful Dodger in Victorian England:

“Policemen, especially City Police are so nice — There is one fellow (number given) who behaves very well to us in the City. He never cares about getting a fellow sent to prison for three months because it does him no good, but if he can make an Old Bailey case of it, he takes the Boy up, because he gets his expenses, or something, I believe, for his trouble — He sometimes stops a fellow and takes anything from him which he may have about him and lets him go again.” (p. 85) (Hickman cited)

Interactions between law enforcement and juveniles evidently has been a tenuous thing since bustles and morning wear.  And now we have a barely 17 year old African American youngster buried, and maligned in some press accounts — for being a youth.

We now have the comment from a former executive of the South Carolina Republican Party: “.@DAWNCATHERINE I appreciate you! I agree that Trayvon Martin was a dangerous thug who needed to be put down like a rabid dog.” [WaPo] — Could there be a more clear and concise statement expressing a negative view of youth in general and male African American youngsters in particular?

Before we lock the doors and “protect” ourselves from the kiddies, some facts should be presented — the fears about kids are not only hackneyed relics of bygone days, they can’t even be supported by any modern statistical evidence.

As of 1995 juveniles were responsible for some 2,560 murders, by 2008 the number had dropped to 974. [StatB]  The population of the United States in 2008 was 304,059,724.  [census]  Care to calculate the odds of a person being murdered by a teenager?

How about other serious crimes?  Bureau of Justice statistics report that in 1995 there were 4,190 forcible rapes committed by teens; a figure which dropped to 2,505 as of 2008.  Robberies? There were 44,508 in 1995 which declined to 27,522 by 2008.   The number of assaults have dropped as well, from 64,334 in 1995 to 42,969 as of 2008. [StatB]

If we’re going to say something about “kids these days” then how about noticing the reduction in juvenile crime since 1995?

If the lamentations about “youth” are nothing new, and there is less reason to fear youth violence than a decade ago, then why do we hold young people to a different standard than we do adults in confrontational situations?

Consider this bit of the instructions to the jury in the Martin case:

“If George Zimmerman was not engaged in an unlawful activity and was attacked in any place where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground and meet force with force, including deadly force if he reasonably believed that it was necessary to do so to prevent death or great bodily harm to himself or another or to prevent the commission of a forcible felony.” [LegalInsur]

So, why didn’t this apply to young Mr. Martin as well?  He had every right to be where he was.  Therefore, according to the jury instructions,  he had no duty to retreat, and a right to meet force with force.   Thus, those attempting to argue that the teenager should have “run home,” or should have “taken flight,” are applying one standard to the teen and a much more generous standard to the adult.   If we adhere to the fundamental belief that all citizens are to be accorded the same rights and privileges under the law, then we can’t assert that a teenager, not allowed an infancy defense,  must be held to a different standard of conduct as an adult.  While American law provides for differentiated types of punishment or rehabilitation processes for juvenile offenders — a robbery is still a robbery.

Can we adamantly declare that self preservation is a basic human instinct, and therefore justifies the use of force, without according the same basic human instinct and justification for a young person?

When all the legal wrangling is filtered from this unfortunate case what remains may very well be good old fashioned residual racism.  Some white people are inordinately fearful or suspicious of young Black men.

Although the statistics don’t support the contention that teens are likely to rob, assault, rape, or murder a person, the old stereotypes remain encased in social cement.  “Kids” travel in gangs or packs, adults congregate.  “Kids” wear outrageous clothing, adults on golf courses are clad in “leisure wear.”  If “hoodies” are the “uniform of crime” remind me to put my hood down in the rain, [Salon] or when I’d like to keep my thoroughly gray hair from taking flight all over my totally white face during one of our high desert wind gusts.  Could we assert that since white collar and financial crimes are committed by individuals in business attire that I should be fearful of bankers in gray suits?  “Kids” are out of control, adults are letting off steam.   And so it goes.

Young Black men are “dangerous.” Oh, wait, let me guess, they just can’t wait to assault pure white women??  If the incipient Artful Dodger mentioned above isn’t a well worn bit of urban mythology, then why would anyone accept a rurally based  Slavery Era stereotype?

No, kids aren’t worse now than they’ve ever been —  Lord Knows we’ve spent enough centuries complaining about them.  And, no we’re more likely to be robbed or assaulted or whatever by someone over 18 and less than 65 than we are by the neighborhood mall crawlers.  If we’d stop being so critical about the cleanliness of their loin cloths, the length of their togas, the decoration of their jerkins, or the positioning of their hoodies…. we might find out they are as essentially silly, mouthy, and irresponsible as we were?

And, we weren’t really all that dangerous were we?

1 Comment

Filed under education, Politics

One response to “Ah, those teenagers…

  1. Sin City Siren

    Reblogged this on The Sin City Siren.