Sunday, February 03, 2013

Too Many Victims

I have always felt an incredible amount of sadness not only for the victims of violence, but for the perpetrators.  Much (probably most) of the violence where I used to teach was both aimed at and committed by young men and I always felt (and feel; sadly, the violence has not abated) just as devastated for the people who took a life as for those who lost theirs.

I understand why people may not agree with me; especially those who have lost loved ones to violence.  But I see these kids when they are just that, kids, and I know them sometimes before they do this.  I've been there when they're scared because they can't control their temper, when they feel such a strong desire for revenge that they can't see any other option, and when they are violent and bullying because that's all they've ever known.  And I think that is just as much of a tragedy as someone dying - it's just a different way of someone losing their life.

Ever since I started teaching where I did, I had a fear of when I would find out that my first student was killed.  I knew it was inevitable.  It happened a few years ago, and it wasn't one of the students from my class, but it was a student who I spent time with outside of school and who I knew from school.  Even with my years of worrying, I never thought it would be someone so young.

I grieved for Josue/Joshua and I grieved for the kids I knew much better who had seen him killed and will probably never be whole again because of that.  I have lost touch with those kids for the most part for a couple of reasons, and one of them is because the older one has really hardened and wants nothing to do with me any more.

Throughout all of these years that I was worrying about "my kids" being killed, I never really thought about how I'd feel when one of my kids killed someone but now I know.

I got a text message from a former student who is now 20 or 21, married, with one baby and another on the way.  She texts me periodically to let me know how she's doing and it usually involves how so-and-so in her family is on such-and-such drugs and how she has moved because she can't have her baby in an environment where his uncles are waving guns around while they're high. (A parenting decision of which I strongly approve.)  Two days ago she texted me to tell me that her cousins killed one of her brothers.

The story I got was that her 23-year old brother was arguing with her cousin R. (who I knew from another third grade class when I was teaching), R. ran in the house, gave his brother A. a gun, and A. shot my student's brother in the face, killing him.  I don't know if drugs were involved, but it's likely.

I expressed my grief and condolences to my former student (although how, HOW do you express the appropriate amount of condolences and grief to someone whose cousin killed her brother, whose nieces are now fatherless, who has been trying her whole life to get away from this kind of senseless violence and it follows her because it is deep in the fabric of her family and community?)

What I didn't tell her, because I don't think it will help her right now, is that I remember A. and R. as children and I remember taking them all three out to Burger King when they were all 8-11 years old.  I worked with A. on Saturdays sometimes, helping him learn to read because he was going to graduate from elementary school without basic reading skills.  I could already tell that almost everyone was going to give up on these two - they were already getting hard and mean - and I treasured the fact that with me, sometimes, on those weekends, I could see them being kids and help them be kids.  I had some hopes that I would make a difference, but, as with so many of these kids, they need so much more of a difference than a few teachers can make.

So now I know, it hurts just as much to find out that a student you loved killed someone as it does to find out a student you loved was killed.  And that honestly, I might have been able to stay in that school if I could have figured out a way not to love the students.

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