When tragedy strikes it is not the time to analyze. If the incident is close to home we are too stunned or numbed to think. If we are an empathetic spectator it is unseemly to appear as if we are callous enough to be analytical. But after the passage of time, with a healthy dose of respect and empathy, we can at times seek answers and perhaps future preventive measures.
We need only look at the recent gun control rhetoric (the term “rhetoric” is used here intentionally as “conversation” would suggest that people in leadership positions are actually saying anything on the subject) as an example of “preventive analysis.” In this case the cry for gun control is obvious and rather simple. The underlying issue of mental illness and how we treat/ignore/fear the afflicted is much more complicated and doesn’t fit nicely into a soundbite or tweet. But the thing about real answers to real problems is that they usually are a bit messy and uncomfortable.
While suburban or rural shootings capture our imagination (and our horror) city streets and playground shootings are far more frequent. Reasonable people would agree that if guns didn’t exist, people wouldn’t get shot. But if you think it through (or if you’ve seen West Side Story) you will also agree that there are other ways to hurt people. People will always hurt people; it’s human nature; as is love and caring. People with nothing to lose are more prone to violence and crime. People who feel ignored or worthless are more likely to lash out at others. We know all this. We also know that boredom is an incendiary device for adolescents. We also know that bad things happen at night. The only person who has ever uttered; “Whatever can happen at 3:00 in the morning can happen at 3:00 in the afternoon” is a 15-year-old fighting over a curfew. Night brings darkness. It is easier to hide and harder to detect danger. The night often brings a higher level of intoxication. While people should be free to socialize outdoors in the evening, it’s not clear that babies and children should join them. You’ve only to walk down a city street or past a playground to see little tiny people out and about after 11:00, 12:00, 1:00… Perhaps it’s the product of younger parents wanting to be young and not having access to childcare. Perhaps it’s the family that plays together stays together. But whatever the motivation it is simply not a great idea. Should people have to live in lockdown because illegal guns plague their neighborhood? Of course not. But do babies need to be awake and out of doors after 9:00 PM?
Unfortunately this is not uniquely a summer in the city phenomenon. Ask any city schoolteacher about tardy or sleep-deprived students. So while it may offend some or even smack of elitism I will issue the soundbite/tweet: “Get your children to bed!” Do children get hurt in their own home? Of course they do. But if we can start teaching a generation of tiny people that the streets are not their home maybe we can make a difference.